For classic rock bands, growing old can be a galling experience. They turn into half-melted wax work dummies, dithering and doddering their way around stadium tours on an endless nostalgia trip that only diminishes their reputation. Who really needs to see Pete Townshend whirlwinding to My Generation whilst clutching his colostomy bag or Paul McCartney sticking his thumbs up and delivering a 42-minute version of Hey Jude at the closing ceremony of the World Tiddly Winks Championships? Pink Floyd’s farewell album further showed how a band who once sounded so mind-blowingly futuristic and psychedelic could become a dated caricature about as cutting edge as a ZX Spectrum.
There are exceptions of course. The ferocity of the Stooges reunion shows put the yoof to shame, The Pixies comeback was a resounding triumph and even Kate Bush had the critics gushing. The moment they are inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame though, seems to be the crossover point where they descend into Brian Pern-like parodies and become zombies wheeled out for gigs with the aid of a puppetry mechanism. The Buzzcocks have thus far avoided that fate, though the idea of now 59-year-old Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle trying to recapture that blasting rush of raw, adolescent excitement that once made the band so vital, does make you wince.
Though rightfully feted as one of punk’s legendary forefathers, their ninth studio album The Way seems to have arrived with very little fanfare. Hell, they’ve even had the ignominy of having to crowdfund the thing themselves. Apt, maybe, for a band who were the first punks to start their own independent label and did so much to pioneer a no-nonsense DIY attitude, but when their peers are out doing margarine adverts and flogging car insurance, you’d have thought there’d be more commercial backing.
It seems to have kept them lean and hungry though, and they come out crashing away to the turbo-charged, three minute pop nugget Keep On Believing. Bursting with trademark 100-mile-an-hour, ragged guitar licks and that beautiful collision of melody and rage, it’s a blazing, us-against-the-world cry of punk positivity, so frantically Buzzcockian. Virtually Real takes a darker turn, pondering the impersonal, alienated weirdness of modern technology under Shelley’s twisted, laughing gas vocals, whilst In The Back chugs and growls with Diggle adopting a wearier, Paul Weller stomp. The title track The Way also seems to be struggling under the weight of post-millennial befuddlement, but as ever, their solution is to blast through the angst with three chords, lacerated fuzz and piles of hyperactive energy. It’s the perfect panacea.
The greatness of the group remains in the alchemy between Diggle and Shelley. You get the impression that peers like John Lydon, Joe Strummer, Siouxsie Sioux and latterly Ian Curtis were touched by a special kind of genius that propelled them to become other-worldly, iconic creatures and meant they would probably have triumphed in whatever field they turned their hands to. The Buzzcocks were, and still are, special because they channelled the ‘everyman’ into blistering, heartfelt pop songs that celebrated the ‘ordinary’. It’s great that they can still generate that fevered rush and tap into your soul with such a direct, humble force. Though seemingly slightly bemused and anxious about the changing times (who isn’t?), they’re a rock dinosaur that continues to roar – regardless of wrinkles, zimmer frames and pension books. Long may they walk the earth.