The Lines - Memory Span
The years 1978 to 1981 rank as probably the most anomalous in British pop history. The major bands of this era- Joy Division, The Fall, Magazine, Wire- at best chalked up modest record sales and at worst are still fairly obscure to this day. There was something too spiky, angst-ridden and literate about these bands for them to cross over in the ways that, say, The Human League or Siouxsie and the Banshees eventually would. It is therefore unsurprising that so much of post-punk’s recorded output has apparently disappeared off the face of the earth. However, there may be other reasons why bands like The Lines didn’t even attract much of a cult following.
This compilation, entitled Memory Span, spans the entirety of their short career, containing all their singles and EPs. The early tracks are probably the best; the needling guitar lines make for a nice contrast with singer Rico Conning’s oddly wistful voice; ‘Blisstability’ prefigures the jangly guitar pop of the mid-80s. Repetition, which had been such a prosaic element in punk, is utilised extensively for almost psychological effect, while the lyrics are quintessentially cryptic. The tunes are basically there, but the production is spindly. A common misconception of post-punk is that it favoured paired down simplicity and raw edges; Martin Hannet’s work with Joy Division and Magazine disproves this, and you can imagine The Lines benefitting from someone of that order behind the control bank.
As the compilation winds on, it loses immediacy. True to the chronology of post-punk, the band move from intellectualised guitar pop to embrace Krautrock and dub. Unfortunately, the results are dull. Tracks like Cool Snap go nowhere very slowly, and though the songs have more room to breathe, they don’t make for compelling listening. Conning isn’t a particularly dramatic performer either, and the overall impression is not of a great lost band, but rather one a dithering and misguided one.
The residue of apathy covering this compilation suggests that The Lines might have had a more promising career had they arrived on the scene a little later. Otherwise, Memory Span reveals a band with occasional sharp edges left largely un-honed.