John Lydon’s infamous leaving jab on a San Franciso stage was unequivocally about the Sex Pistols, but punk’s first wave had been teetering on the brink of self destruction for some time before he asked a confused audience if they ever felt like they’d been cheated.
The reasons for that disenchantment were unique to Lydon. Fortunately however the generation of musicians inspired by the Pistols short tenure as the establishment’s most wanted had bought into a credo as opposed to a specific noise. As he formed Public Image Limited seeking rebirth, many of them scattered too, fracturing punk’s original archetype into half a dozen stranger, more underground forms.
Led by singer Malcolm Owen, The Ruts collectively weren’t novice musicians and also rejected any former orthodoxy on their sparse debut single In A Rut, released on reggae pioneers Misty In Roots’ People Unite label. The follow up had it’s finger on the hair trigger which threatened to ignite the extreme wider social tensions of the day – mass unemployment, industrial unrest, poverty, racism – and boiled with disaffected aggression.
Babylon’s Burning was also a prototype for a more aggressive approach, the evolutionary chassis harder, more overtly political and terrace ready. Owen knew what he was doing, telling Sounds Garry Bushell that the knife edged words were a direct repudiation of how pop’s cynical fixed grin had resurfaced, saying: “Everyone’s singing love songs again”. The combination of boots and bravado catapulted the quartet into the top ten, but Owen was to perish in less than year as the result of a drug overdose having already been fired. It was a tragic end for him, but a new beginning in the underground for punk was already underway.