Punk reigned supreme in the U.K. for all of 18 months (give or take) before imploding, but during the brief period it held sway, it forever set free musicians from the strictures and constraints of the past. No longer would aspiring stars need to spend years perfecting their musicianship, nor were they now beholden to the straight jackets of songcraft. Of course, back in the late '60s, progressive rockers, too, threw the rule book in the rubbish pit, but the punks ripped it up for good. In the aftermath of punk's demise, new bands inspired by punk's fire took to the stage and studio, an amorphous group that eventually coalesced into a variety of separate genres -- hardcore, art-punk, goth rock, New Romantics, and more. While the punks had espoused nihilism, at heart they were romantics, convinced they could destroy society and create something new and better. The bands that sprung up immediately in their wake were under no such illusion, their forbearers' exhilaration giving way to darkness and rage. The Exit Strategy is far removed in time and place from late-'70s Britain, but still captures the brittle feel of the day and the underlying excitement of experimentation that defined the age. On City of Microphones, an album bristling with tension, the band blurs not only today's genres but even yesteryear's. "Addiction by Subtraction" and "Big Gunpowder" are the exceptions, firmly slotting into art-punk and proto-goth, respectively. But hybrids like the art-gothic "Judas Kiss" and "System of One Youth," a cross between early Adam & the Ants and Gang of Four, are more representative of Exit's musical strategy. "General Manager" and "Motorcade" push gingerly towards pop territory, "The First the Finest the Future" teeters towards the early stirring of the New Romantics, while "He Has a Bright Future with British Steel" flings itself onto the dancefloor. The group's lyrics are suitably obscure, but that may be more of a reflection of frontman Mark Costantino's policeman day job, who wouldn't want to risk crossing that thin blue line. In any event, Exit aren't entirely mired in Britain's past, with later U.S. hardcore heroes -- notably Fugazi and the Minutemen, also insinuating their way into the band's sound. City is a gloom-fest extravaganza, dark, ominous, and quivering with barely constrained emotion. It may echo the past, but the band's tightness and musical restraint are in a class all their own.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene