British punk's landscape was populated with sniping, disaffected youths who strung together those mythical three chords; although Patrik Fitzgerald was one of them, he quickly learned that punk's democratic spirit didn't necessarily embrace solo performers with poetic pretensions and acoustic guitars. If Fitzgerald's work found scant favor in the late '70s, this compilation of recordings from 1977 to 1981 suggests it doesn't improve with age, either. Critics single out Fitzgerald for his social commentary but, in truth, there's little of that here. He rails against miscarriages of justice ("George"), grasps clumsily at Marxist critiques of alienated labor ("Work. Rest. Play. Reggae"), and bemoans the rigidity of the British class system ("Conventions of Life"), but his tautly strummed, melodically challenged songs seldom make a coherent point beyond conveying bitterness and frustration. With the onus so heavily on lyrics and not much going on musically, Fitzgerald's writing rarely holds up; compared to the other punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, Fitzgerald shows little linguistic dexterity, creativity, or wit. His complaints often sound more existential and self-pitying than political or communal. He fares better when he's not making statements ("Safety Pin Stuck in My Heart," "Cruellest Crime," and the Bowie-esque "Live Out My Stars"), but his songs are invariably awkward. Despite his sensitive snapshot in "Adopted Girl," he blows his feminist credibility with the stereotypical "Babysitter"; "Set We Free" comes perilously close to blackface; and in "The Bingo Crowd" he even assails old folk for enjoying an ideologically suspect pastime. Ironically, Fitzgerald wrote his own epitaph early in his career: dealing with a failed artist who "never made the Top 30," "All the Years of Trying" was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Some see Fitzgerald as a forerunner of Billy Bragg, but he lacked Bragg's charisma, humor, and political sophistication -- and he didn't have the songs.
AllMusic Review by Wilson Neate