Old school, old tricks
In the midst of the wave of British punk rock and post-punk rock in the 1970s and 1980s came Getting The Fear, a group that was short-lived but became a staple in the genre and transcended into a new form of expression. Formed by the rhythm section of gothic punk group Southern Death Cult (Barry Jepson, David “Buzz” Burrows and Aki Haq Nawaz Qureshi) and joined by the captivating, androgynous Paul “Bee” Hampshire, the group quickly gained traction and landed a lucrative record deal with RCA Records. However, soon after the recording and release of their debut single “Last Salute,” a label shakeup left them stranded and unsupported.
Now, at long last, the brief-but-beloved band has released their collective work through their LP Death Is Bigger: 1984-85. The compilation’s 12 tracks feel eclectic and are filled with whimsical stories of dreams, sex and Charles Manson. Despite this, the rough instrumentals and mono-toned vocals from Hampshire get old too quickly, making the album play with little fury.
The album starts with the energetic demo version of “Rise.” Groovy drum beats and synthesizers chug along as Hampshire charges through the track with lyrics like “Lay down and rise/ Enter a steel ring.” As expected with most demos, the way the instrumentals are mixed is so loud and jarring that it is hard to hear what Hampshire is even saying. However, the song’s bridge is able to show off Hampshire’s vocal prowess through a sudden key change and a 10-second long belt, giving a hopeful glimpse of what’s to come.
The next track, “Dune Buggy Attack,” is a change of pace from its predecessor. A delicate guitar riff and smooth clarinet solos accompany lyrics that were culled from the testimony of Manson murderess Susan Atkins, adding somberness to the chiming bass tones. The melancholic melodies continue through the bridge, during which the steady drum beats and the ominous-like guitar riff adds an element of suspense to an otherwise dark song.
As one follows along with the tracklist, a predictable pattern emerges, bringing the album’s weaknesses to light. Their most-streamed song, “Against The Wind,” has solid, subtle bass lines and dynamic rhythms that bring life to the track. However, Hampshire’s vocals are one-noted, dulling what could have been a bright ember within the album. On the other hand, “We Struggle” is another slow, emotional song, but it also sounds eerily similar to “Dune Buggy Attack.” Additionally, the synthesizer fades throughout the track, which makes it hard to focus on any single element, instrumental or vocal, and makes it feel like there is too much going on at once.
The standout track in Death Is Bigger: 1984-85 is “Sometimes,” instrumentally and vocally. For once, Hampshire’s distinct voice is not drowned out by loud, over-bearing instrumentals. Instead, the intricate acoustics and simple beat amplify the range in Hampshire’s voice that was previously muddled out.
With a band as short-lived as Getting The Fear, it makes sense that expectations for Death Is Bigger: 1984-85 were quite high. However, the album’s shortcomings far outweigh its high moments, making it quick to wonder why this hyped British punk band was so short-lived.