Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review: 'Third Degree' by Nine Below Zero

In the late ‘70s, Nine Below Zero drummed up much local interest as one of London’s finest pub bands. They drew sweat like their punk peers while channeling the attitudinal blues of the early Stones and Yardbirds. Mark Feltham did things to his harp Jagger never dared. By their third album, they had transferred the wild energy they put into the Motown covers that made up their legendary stage sets (captured on their debut L.P., Live at the Marquee) to a serrated line-up of all-original material. It’s no hollow gesture that the band chose Swinging London-icon David Bailey to shoot the cover of Third Degree. The album finds Nine Below Zero tight, taut, modish. With only the thinnest 1982 sheen, the album stirs memories of circa-’65 Small Faces and Who. The tough, bluesy power pop contained inside never betrays the listener’s demand for a killer chorus. “Wipe Away Your Kiss” is an infectious homage to The Jam playing homage to The Beatles. “Why Can’t We Be What We Want to Be” slows the pace without letting up on the intensity. “Egg on My Face” is a vain attempt to temper the band’s fire by swapping acoustics for the usual electric attack. “Sugarbeat (And Rhythm Sweet)” is freaky soul spotlighting Brian Bethell’s wiry bass. And the pile driving lead-off track, “Eleven Plus Eleven”, would deserve classic-single status even if it hadn’t helped launch “The Young Ones”.

Out of print for some time, Third Degree has just received an overdue remaster and rerelease by BGO Records in the UK. Though they never had much impact in the U.S. beyond their sitcom debut, Nine Below Zero are well worthy of discovery by anyone who digs their ties as skinny as their drainpipe trousers, realizes Pete Townshend was always at his best when thrashing a Rickenbacker, and understands that Elvis Costello would have been a lot better off had he never met Langer and Winstanley.

Order Third Degree now on

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