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The Diodes: Canuck Punk

Hearing this backwards through the guise of time and a lot of subsequent punk groups – Canadian or otherwise – it’s difficult gauge how out of the norm">the Diodes were. Today, these guys could easily been on the radio the day after tomorrow – or maybe featured on Pitchfork. But as the band got toward the end of its life a good deal of ‘80s style snuck into their punk. Of course, they weren’t the only group to suffer in this way, but by the time they reached 1980’s Action Reaction, it was pretty clear which way the band intended to move.

When the Diodes began during 1976, there weren’t too many acts treading the same territory as these folks anywhere – but certainly not in Canada. Of course there were other notable groups – Teenage Head of course. But the Diodes were instrumental in the coalescence of the punk scene there. Helping to found the venue Crash ‘n Burn – which played host to a great many touring acts of the time including the Nerves which featured a young Peter Case – was an important step.

The group began its recorded life in 1977 only to return a few years latter for the 1979 Released. But, as previously mentioned in passing, the 1980 release of Action Reaction found the Diodes working in a pretty pop inspired mold. Of course the guitar tone was most likely problematic to some, coming off a bit too fuzzy. But the tempos were sluggish at best. And while the group possessed a vocal ability that not too many other punkers had, the emphasis on (for real) singing detracted from the groups overall presentation.

Another problem the band encounters here is the fact that they work out some of their pop constructions for a bit to long. A few tracks clock in at over four minutes in length and need to be propped up by a bit too much synthesizer. The back to back offering of “City of the Dead” and “Rock It,” which both suffer from the inclusion of the synthesizer, really brings the album to a close in a not too flattering light. There’s still another track left to get through, but in the eight minutes of these tracks, listeners will presumably find something else to entertain them as much as some forced singing and keyboard lines.

There really isn’t a punk stomper to placate the devoted. And the obvious inclination of the band to work towards a more palatable sound becomes at least somewhat grating by the conclusion of the disc. A number of bands suffered in this way. The aforementioned Teenage Head, while not moving so far away from its initial sound, towards the end of their record life found a bit of a rockabilly tinge in its music. Of course, a cover of “Brand New Cadillac,” is excusable. But anything beyond that just seems like pushing it. And that’s why it’s hard to figure some bands from this era. DMZ? The Dictators? Anyone of that ilk doesn’t necessarily translate into the 21st century. And while other offerings from the Diodes might, Action Reaction doesn’t.