The Stiffs

Innocent Bystanders

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Also-rans from the second wave of British punk, the Stiffs often cited Slade, the Glitter Band and Sweet as key early influences, and their music certainly suggested the guitar based swagger of glam more strongly than the edgy urgency of the Clash or the Sex Pistols. While the Stiffs scored a few memorable singles during their lifespan, this collection, which brings together a few of their better A-sides with the surviving fragments of an unreleased album, reveals that while they had chops and an ear for a hook, the Stiffs were Johnny One Notes when it comes to songwriting. Innocent Bystanders is full of fist-pumping tunes about the evils of working a straight job ("Magic Roundabout"), kids on the street ("Kids on the Street" -- see, I told you), standing up against the forces of daily repression (the title tune) and the pains of being subjected to disco music at your favorite pub ("Best Place In Town"). Admittedly, the Stiffs sound tight and forceful on these tracks, all the more impressive since most were cut as demos, but the punk-by-numbers melodies don't mesh well with the over-the-top guitars wailing, and on "Standard English" and "Volume Control" the band comes off as slightly less intelligent than Sham 69. For loyal fans of the Stiffs, Innocent Bystanders offers a welcome look at an album that never was, but anyone with a more casual interest in this group should try the almost-hits CD The Punk Collection instead.

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