urinal heap

There are few acts that have had the stamina not to grow at all. Knowing the depths of one's talent, and never overstepping those boundaries is a feat unto itself. A few bands have had long careers and never felt the urge to expand on their original formula: The Ramones, AC/DC, Motörhead. They were cartoons to start with, but their lack of desire to become three-dimensional is stunning. Even past their prime, they could dish out some songs that did justice to what came before.

Armitage Shanks showed up around the same time as the Dwarves, playing the same ’70s style punk a decade too late. Named for the manufacturer of the urinals in every pub in London, they romp through covers of The Who and Sam & Dave like a beery old British party band.


But their brains remain intact. Urinal Heap is plain, hard-hitting mid-tempo punk. "Ladyboy," with its stuttering Oi chords, falls somewhere between a footballer chant and a skinhead headbutt. But it does recount a night with a transsexual, far funnier and more challenging than anything the Dwarves cook up.


When they muster some contempt for "trousers slightly flared" the bile is outdated, but oddly charming. Another cover, the Television Personalities' "14th Floor" is a 1978 rant about tower-block living. But there is a poignancy that the song's complaints are still relevant, and that the Shanks still feel like complaining about them. The cockney accents are thick and thuggish throughout, full of 'armonies that don't quite 'armonize. It toughens up the cover versions, and makes the originals as blunt as nightsticks. This is a Billy Childish production, which is to say that the production is completely unadorned, save that strange energy he brings out in simple riffs.


For the last three decades, there's probably been a dozen strong, neglected records like this every year, sitting beneath the underground, all in the same stripped-down yobber mode, all easy to overlook. Some years, like when Stiff started putting out pub rock or when Sub Pop started diversifying their sound, these records get a little notice. But the magic of a record like Urinal Heap is due to the clear fact that the Shanks don't give a damn that they're way down at the bottom. That the Dwarves briefly broke out of this gutter is a credit their rush of inspiration, but it sure doesn't guarantee a musical career. Plain old bad attitude ain't hard to get right, but it sure is easy to get wrong.

Ben Donnelly
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