The Pointed Sticks
Quintessence - 1980
|The quest for the perfect pop single - taut, jumpy, emotive - bequeathed a litany of largely forgotten North American new wave bands in the late seventies. Their breakout from punk's surly stance was swift. Witness the likes of the Shoes, the Human Switchboard, the Dbs, the Fleshtones and the plethora of spry, danceable singles cast from a simple, three-minute template. The punk story has been peddled to death: bored kids smothered under prog-rock's bloated belly of virtuosity are suddenly freed by punk's urgency and rage. But what about the new wavers' version of events? Sure, the leather-clad toughs may have been sated by punk's fury, but what would the meek inherit? Or the geeky? Or the just plain horny?
Enter Vancouver's Pointed Sticks, who after their potent 1978 debut seven-incher What Do You Want Me to Do?/Somebody's Mom brightened up their sound by adding some sunny keys to the mix. The formula was a winner as their second single, 1979's rosy 'The Real Thing'/'Out of Luck', caught the attention of Stiff Records, this at a time (pre-MTV) when hoary radio programmers this side of the pond often sentenced bands to languish in the indieland ghetto. (I present to you Exhibit A: how many radio hits were spawned from the abovementioned bands?).
Stiff issued a re-recorded, Brinsley Schwarz-produced three-song EP in Britain and by early 1980 the Pointed Sticks readied themselves for a UK tour in support of a promised LP. As luck would have it, the cash-strapped Stiff balked on the album and Perfect Youth was finally pressed in November of 1980 on local indie Quintessence.
The disc sticks to the method - keep it short and snappy, and get 'em dancing - and thus is rife with expertly crafted new wave hooks. 'Out of Luck' is so beautifully formulaic that it almost skirts cliche. The simple twitchy guitar intro whets the appetite, and a pause then keeps us in bated expectation before unleashing the infectious dance beat. The title track itself is such an unabashedly buoyant paean to youth that one wonders about the age demographic of radio programmers at the time to have missed something so obvious. This is pure guitar-based new wave unsullied by the synthetic twelve-inch production of the MTV years - call it shorter, harder and cut.
The Sticks would go on to be featured in the 1980 Dennis Hopper film Out of the Blue, but with little promotion other than the avid support of university radio, their lustre soon faded. And so by June 1981, after a tour of Eastern Canada, the Pointed Sticks had decided to call it quits.
(Sudden Death Records has breathed new life into Perfect Youth with a CD reissue plus bonus tracks, as well as a blue-vinyl LP repress.)
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