TV Smith's Cheap

RIP...Everything Must Go!

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Cheap was always a paradox. Their biggest asset should have been vocalist TV Smith, whose past with the Adverts opened the band wide to the nostalgia circuit that was percolating through the early-'90s punk scene. Instead, they buried his past as readily as they buried comparisons with anything else that was buzzing around back then, instigating instead a wide-screen wall of belligerent sound that was angrier, louder, and more potent than any of the airs that fired punk's own first gleaming. Clear-headed lyrics set to muddy-minded riffs, wide-eyed innocence crushed by gutter-groping cynicism, wolves in rat-bag's clothing who lie down for the world to kick, then turn around and bite its legs off -- Cheap were the perennial outsiders; the fact that they had to die before they even got their album released proves that. But what an album it is. Three years of underground gigging preceded its creation, and the track listing cherry-picks some of Smith's all-time finest songs: "New Ways Are Best," a scouring scrutiny of the consumer age; "Leisure Time," the bemused battle cry of the disenfranchised worker; "Buried by the Machine," the last gasp of the free world as it's buried beneath corporate sponsorship; and "Luxury in Exile," a chilling contemplation of the fate of the war criminals who wind up on the winning side. All hit home with a vengeance as much as when the album first appeared. Indeed, in a modern era when people are so concerned with such issues of freedom of choice and freedom of speech, the greatest issues of all -- the loss of hope and dignity, the betrayal of trust, and the death of faith -- have still to join the consciousness bandwagon. Only by restoring the human condition can humankind restore human values, and if you understand that, you understand Cheap.

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