„We got new thoughts, new ideas, it’s all so groovy
It’s just a shame that we all seen the same old movies.“
With those words, delivered in a bored drawl, Chris Bailey and his band the Saints took punk rock on a long detour in 1978. Even as they commanded a ferocious guitar-and-snarl power only a few of their contemporaries could match, the Saints knew the new music they were making wasn’t enough by itself. ‚Eternally Yours,‘ their second album, stands as a landmark because it put that knowledge into action– it fused punk energy with ambitious song stuctures and arrangements. Along with ‚London Calling‘ more than a year later, ‚Eternally Yours‘ made clear that punk could be integrated with other rock styles in an endless variety of combinations.
Of course the Saints, who toiled for years in their hometown of Brisbane, Austrailia, before coming to England on the wave of their 1977 debut single ‚I’m Stranded,‘ weren’t the first punk band to flash cynicism about their music and its movement. That cynicism was built into the style. But with ‚Eternally‘ they may have been the first to express those feelings musically as well as verbally. The album’s first soundisn’t a distorted guitar or pounding drum intro, but a blaring horn section playing the chords of ‚Know Your Product,‘ while Bailey chortles ‚Yeah…Alright…Too much!‘ underneath. In his review America’s leading rock critic Robert Christgau groaned ‚If those horns are somebody’s idea of a joke I am not amused.’And at the time, it may have been hard to tell if it was a joke or not.
The Saints‘ first album, ‚I’m Stranded‘, is one of the great ’77 punk pieces. Although Bailey’s gruff growl was every bit the equal of Johnny Rotten’s caterwaul, Saints‘ guitarist Ed Kuepper steered clear of the metallic tendencies that occasionally slowed the Pistols. The result was a razor-sharpsound not unlike what The Damned achieved on their Nick Lowe-produced debut. So when ‚Eternally‘ kicked off with ‚Know Your Product‘ and its horns, fans must have been startled and tempted to laugh. But by the end of the song the only thing startling is how well the arrangement works, how loud and raw the song is even though it relies on horns as much as guitar. For the rest of the album the Saints alternate basic punk nuggets such ‚Lost and Found‘ and ‚Run Down‘ with sophisticated gems like ‚Memories Are Made of This‘ and ‚Untitled.‘ In ‚Memories,‘ which can also be heard in a fine cover version from Berlin’s Strangemen, Bailey speeds through the lyrics in ’60’s-Dylan mode, while ‚Untitled‘ is a simple but uncommonly felt love song. Bailey’s voice, at this early date already an instrument with great emotional range, keeps the album together, recognizable as one complete work. But the different songwriting approaches that Kuepper takes– occasionally falling back on power chords, but usually coming up with more intricate riffs–allows ‚Eternally Yours‘ to be heard and enjoyed from several points of view.
As a slice of punk rock life, it nearly matches the crazed energy of ‚I’m Stranded.‘ As an influence, it stands tall, with everyone who’s tried to mix roots-rock and punk– from X to Uncle Tupelo, with R.E.M. somewhere in between– owing at least a small debt. But ‚Eternally Yours‘ is best seen as the first step in the remarkable, however underrated, career of Chris Bailey.
In one interview Bailey asserted that ‚I’m Stranded‘ was actually recorded purely as a demo to land a contract, released against the band’s better judgement, and that he considers ‚Eternally‘ to be his first proper album. This is hard to believe, given the power of ‚Stranded,‘ but either way ‚Eternally‘ is clearly the blueprint that Bailey has followed. After a third album late in 1978, the original Saints split up, Bailey resurrecting the name a year later and keeping it alive ever since with constantly changing personnel. In effect all the post-70’s Saints albums are Chris Bailey solo albums, but he has also made several albums under his own name, ranging from an unaccompanied acoustic set to the full-blown Memphis sessions of 1991’s brilliant ‚Demons.‘ Along the way he has proven himself master of the pained and lonely lyric, the dramatic arrangment, and vocals both soulful and sarcastic. The Saints‘ 1988 disc ‚Prodigal Son‘ displays all these qualities in full flight, and the new Saints album on Blue Moon Records, ‚Howling,‘ is also a treasure. But the journey starts with ‚Eternally Yours.‘