Crass’ 1982 offering “Christ – The Album” had been an audacious piece of work taking six months to record and several months to be released by which time the Falklands war had come and gone with no mention of this from the Crass camp. The album itself had been experimental, certainly in punk terms, and saw the band exploring the intricacies of their music and the power of the recording studio. On the follow up, “Yes Sir, I Will”, Crass did a complete about face to produce an album that was the polar opposite to its predecessor.
So incensed by the outrages he saw in Thatcher’s handling of the Falklands war, and possibly shaken by how out of step the band had seemed at the time politically, drummer Penny Rimbaud scribed a vicious and vitriolic response in the form of an extended poem called “Rocky Eyed”. When the time came for Crass to record their next album this poem formed the basis of the concept and the lyrics. Also interesting is the process that informed the musical side of the album. Whereas “Christ- The Album” had been a meticulous and laborious effort, “Yes Sir, I Will” was largely improvised in one 45 minute session in the studio and released as one long song over two sides of the original vinyl. This CD reissue, although sequenced as a continuous track, sees the song split into seven sections.
Musically, and I think the band were well aware of this, this is far from an easy ride. The largely improvisational nature of the piece is, as one might expect, often dissonant and messy. Penny Rimbaud and bassist Pete Wright do offer some semblance of consistency and lock into some driving rhythms, Wright’s bass providing a meandering yet melodic undertow to the proceedings. The guitars of Phil Free and N A Palmer, however, often degenerate into atonal and frankly irritating noise…not unlike a car scraping along a crash barrier!!! It’s pretty clear that these guys didn’t possess the Grateful Dead’s ability to jam…and were probably quite glad of that. There are some moments of respite, however. Out of the mire comes a charming piano led balladic piece sung by Penny Rimbaud bearing the repeated refrain “What did you know, what did you care” that offers a few minutes of breathing space before the assault resumes and elsewhere there are flashes of Crass’ tight punk rock that push their way to the forefront and offer a welcome glimpse of the band that are currently drowning in a sea of noise.
Similarly the vocals are delivered as a barely restrained rant divided between Steve Ignorant, Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre. Now it would be stretching things to say that Crass’ vocals in the past were a melodic tour de force but they were at least arranged in such a way that the lyrical refrains would grab the ear and the attention…”do they owe us a living, of course they fucking do”. Here, however, the lyrical barrage, particularly without following the lyric sheet, becomes slightly neutered in its effect. Ultimately, no-one likes to be shouted at and this, in effect, is what Crass are doing here. Whereas in the past Crass had been extremely successful in putting forward their political agenda by adopting a format that included and entertained the listeners, here they seek to alienate. It’s almost as if their anger has got the better of them and is overriding the artistic quality they once had. It is definitely true that the more someone shouts, the less people will listen and that’s exactly what Crass have fallen pray to here…the desire to force their point across outweighs their desire to create good art and unfortunately the effect is overall detrimental. The subject matter is lost in murky mess of vitriolic noise.
The result is that “Yes Sir, I Will” exists as something of a curio in the Crass catalogue. Worthy of a listen, almost for historic purposes, but not a piece of work that bears repeated listens. Also included in this reissue package, which, like the previous reissues comes with updated lavish artwork and extensive notes from Penny Rimbaud, is a bonus disc entitled “Why Don’t You Fuck Off?”. This is simply a remix of the album created by Rimbaud in 2002 incorporating jazz instrumentalists Ingrid Laubrock and Juilan Seigal on saxophone and double bass respectively. In truth this offers very little to the original piece so effectively you get two versions of the same album albeit one slightly noisier than the other.
For Crass completists, particularly those intent on collection the full Crassical selection of reissues this is obviously an essential piece of work and from a historical perspective is an important moment in Crass’ evolution as a political and musical force but as a piece of work in itself…it’s bloody hard work…and I don’t know if Penny Rimbaud would have it any other way!!!
Scribed by: Ollie Stygall