Every Record I Own - Day 268: Crass Penis Envy
Did anyone really like Crass upon first listen?
As a teenager, I was initially drawn to their logo—the weird ouroboros / cross / swastika emblem that seemed nearly as ubiquitous in punk culture as the Black Flag bars. I expected circle pit tempos, beefed up guitars, truncated songs. So I bought a cassette copy of Stations of the Crass without hearing a note of their music and spent countless hours in my bedroom trying to make sense of their militaristic snare-heavy drum patterns, airwave-static guitar tones, and tuneless songs. They didn’t even sound like a band; they sounded like a bunch of angry Brits that grabbed whatever equipment was within arm’s reach and hastily banged out these weird little diatribes. I didn’t enjoy it, but I was fascinated by the iconography and intrigued by anyone’s capability to distill anything musical from these sounds. I was still within my first year of listening to punk, and I was aware that a lot of this music was meant to be difficult, so I stuck with Crass. And at some point I found myself barking along to “You’ve Got Big Hands”, “Darling”, and “Big Man, Big M.A.N.”.
I grabbed Penis Envy out of a used bin years later. And while it’s a much easier listen than Stations of the Crass, I didn’t have to work as hard to appreciate it, and consequently I feel a little less attachment to this album. But ultimately every Crass record makes me think of European squats, as their music always seems to be emanating from makeshift vegan kitchens or blasted through sound systems between bands. Crass makes sense in those environments. There is something tribalistic, austere, cobbled-together, and confrontational in their music, and even something as neutral as dropping the needle onto a copy of Penis Envy makes you feel like you’re living on the fringe.