This Penetration article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Michael Liggins
Pauline Murray had the most perfect voice for late ‘70s post-punk, and it’s still beautifully clear and powerful on Penetration’s third studio album, ‘Resolution.’ Even at her angriest, Murray was always in tune and harmonious — as on the punky ‘Don’t Dictate’ from late 1977, the following year’s ‘Firing Squad’ or ‘Silent Community’ from classic debut album ‘Moving Targets’ (1978).
It’s been 36 years since Penetration’s last studio album ‘Coming Up For Air’ and they’re still anchored by the axis of Murray and bassist Robert Blamire, who produces the new material. John Maher from Buzzcocks is an inspired choice on drums. Maher, arguably the best punk generation drummer, experimented in drum-led songs such as ‘Moving Away From The Pulsebeat’ that were ahead of their time.
Given Murray’s vocal prowess, it’s a surprise that the songs on ‘Resolution’ are bookended by the oddly named ‘Instrumantra’, an instrumental, and ‘Outromistra’, the outro track. There’s talk of “melodious sounds” on ‘Outromistra’, but no singing, as an EM Forster sci-fi story unfolds. The guitars weave ever faster patterns that any young indie-punk band would be proud of. Murray’s spoken vocal is reminiscent of John Cale reading ‘The Gift’ on Velvet Underground’s ‘White Heat/White Light’.
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‘Instrumantra’ immediately gives a flavour of the overall sound; as guitars chop like axes. Tracks such as ‘Betrayed!’ and ‘Just Drifting’ have guitar solos that fans of The Only Ones or Television will love. The great little solo on the pulsating poppy ‘Beat Goes On’ is by Fred Purser, former Penetration and Tygers of Pan Tang guitarist, now an engineer on this album and others. The 11th and penultimate track ‘Calm Before The Storm’ has more of a Buzzcocks-style guitar solo.
Murray’s impeccable vocals spin strong melodies that float between multi-layered and tight tracks based on driving, grinding bass; thumping drums; and the continually playful interaction of slicing or soaring guitars. ‘Guilty’ is typical of the way the songs rewardingly change pace, taking detours into a guitar solo or duel and then returning to the hook or chorus. The lyrics are intriguing. On ‘Two Places (Dos Lugares)’, Murray sings “We’re prisoners of security, deniers of our destiny” and her overdubbed vocals include Spanish phrases. The Hispanic undercurrent continues on the mystical ‘Aguila’ — Castilian for eagle — and in the Spanish style clapping on ‘Betrayed!’
The men join in on backing vocals on the dynamic ‘The Feeling’ which, like all the tracks, is always changing tack in a way that keeps it interesting and lively. Its weird echoed guitar noises lead straight into ‘Sea Song’, a post-punk sea shanty about water, storms, waves and tides that ends with shimmering cymbals. Murray’s background vocals on ‘Calm Before The Storm’, sound like Ellie Rowsell’s asides with Wolf Alice and her repeated singing of the final lyric “goodnight” is also Rowsell-esque. ‘Makes No Sense’ is like Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring Of Fire’ spliced with The Damned in their ‘Black Album’ period, and ends with a nod to ‘Pulsebeat’ drums.
‘Resolution’ is out now via Polestar.