Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. Long-term readers may recall a few articles written back in May in which we rated the first wave of an ongoing Crass reissue series. With the next batch on shelves now, we’re looking at 1981’s ‘Penis Envy’ first.
Crass were one of British punk’s most daring bands. With 1977’s ‘The Feeding Of The Five Thousand’, they pushed the genre’s barbed aggression further than any had before, while 1979’s ‘Stations Of The Crass’ found them experimenting with the parameters of the style at large. 1981’s ‘Penis Envy’ is, in some respects, a less ambitious album than either of its predecessors – although certainly not a less successful one. Where they had been bleeding-edge innovators a few years before, the rest of the scene had caught up with Crass by ’81, meaning that they were no longer alone in perusing their anarchic vision of punk. Although many imitated them, no other band before or since has managed to craft a punk record quite so tunnel-focused and mercilessly intelligent as Crass did with ‘Penis Envy’. Despite the fact that they chose to work work within a more traditionalistic musical framework, the contents of ‘Penis Envy’ is no less challenging than that of their previous efforts. Where much of their earlier albums had been penned by vocalist Steve Ignorant, he’s conspicuous by his absence here. Instead Eve Libertine fronts the group, taking no prisoners as she leads the band in the smartest and most intensely focused direction they would ever go. ‘Penis Envy’ is a lyrical marvel and a record that stands tall as a landmark of feminist music at large. Libertine is ruthless in her dismantling of the hypocrisy and fears of patriarchal society, writing with an urgency and clarity that makes this both immediately visceral and enduringly replayable. The raw belligerence of the group’s earlier cuts, such as ‘Shaved Women’, is funnelled into something greater on ‘Penis Envy’. Libertine’s vocal command is deeply arresting – these are songs in which she sneers and spits, addressing the institutionalisation of misogyny with all the contempt it deserves. Clearly spurred on by Libertine’s poised writing, the group deliver some of the best performances of any of their albums. In what amounts to the perfect storm of raw energy and premeditated creative prowess, ‘Penis Envy’ stands not only as Crass’ greatest achievement but a classic of punk.
Back in May, we reviewed the first three releases in this ongoing Crass reissues series, highly praising them at the time for their pressing quality. Self released on the band’s own label with help from One Little Indian, this new ‘Penis Envy’ reissue has been produced to the same high standards. Remastered by Alex Gordon at Abbey Road Studios, the intention here has been to keep the sonic nature of these reissues as close as possible to that of the original releases. These efforts have been hugely successful, as the sound quality on this reissue is excellent. There’s a great detail to the soundstage here; Libertine’s vocals are imbued with a realism and presence, the drums are sharp and focused and the bass parts pop out of the sonic milieu with appropriate aplomb. The pressing itself is also admirable in every respect – weighed in hand, we have little doubt that this is a full 180 grams. Our copy sits flat and warp-free upon the platter during playback and sound itself is very clean indeed, with tidy surfaces free of noise. As with the previous wave of Crass reissues, this is a very high quality release.
Packaging and presentation have always been distinctive with Crass releases. As much as they experimented with the nature of their sonic art, the group also placed high value on an uncompromising and vivid visual aesthetic. Alongside a handful of peers, Crass released many of their albums in unusual sleeves which folded out to reveal a poster design. The original release of ‘Penis Envy’ was presented in just such a way, and this reissue faithfully adheres to that design. Punk collectors will know just how fragile these original poster-sleeves are and many vintage copies today are dog-eared, split, stained or missing altogether. The poster-sleeve found with this reissue, on the other hand, is crafted from a good, weighty paperstock that feels as though it’s likely to stand up to years of use rather more so than the original release. Image quality is excellent, with text being printed in sharp definition. The art direction is truly arresting on this album, so it’s great to see the original sleeve faithfully reproduced. A high quality black polylined inner sleeve is also included, which is a refreshing change of pace when so many modern releases are presented in cheap paper inner sleeves that damage the records inside.
‘Penis Envy’ is Crass’ finest moment and a genuine essential. With previous pressings all sporting a hefty price tag online these days, this new reissue from Crass Records and One Little Indian is not only very necessary but also very well done.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!