It takes a warped fashionista eye to gaze upon the gnarly urch muzzles of The Paddingtons and think, ‘Y’know, I bet they’d look good on the catwalk.’ But Hedi Slimane nabbing Josh Padd’s drainpipes’n’braces ‘look’ for his latest Dior collection speaks encyclopaedias about the way this bunch of scragglebums from Hull have infiltrated and crystallised the modern yoof-punk oeuvre. More through homogenisation than front-running, though – they crossed the Whitechapel scene’s spiv fashions with The Others’ rabid-whippet ferocity and the kind of standard issue grot-punk songs you could scrape off the wall of the Rhythm Factory most nights, thereby coming to epitomise everything thrillingly familiar about the post-Libs world of pikey poet punkas. They are grot’n’roll in the same way Shed Seven were britpop and Northside were baggy.
But this? Now this wasn’t supposed to happen. Certainly nobody expected a vital, pulse-pumping monster of a debut album set on tearing down the walls of art-rock and feasting on the blood of the wonky-fringed hordes within. But then nobody counted on one Mr Owen Morris popping up on production ‘duties’ boasting testicles of solid steel. Doing for The Paddingtons much the same as Steve Albini did for Pixies – taking some fairly scratchy and unfocused numbers and breathing the evil fire of a billion-headed Cerberuses into their bellies – on ‘First Comes First’ Morris just as successfully forges a new voice for British rock as he did with Oasis in ’95. By ramming a whole abattoir’s worth of raw beef down the gullets of ‘Panic Attack’, ‘Some Old Girl’ and ‘Stop Breathing’, he’s grown a slavering punk behemoth where there was once just an underfed Pete Doherty lapdog with the teeth of Chucky and the temperament of a pissed-off were-stoat.
No, ‘First Comes First’ races out of the traps a lithe, muscle-fed beast: ‘Some Old Girl’ piledrives through its three minutes of fantasism on the dual rumbly-bass boosters of The Stooges and MC5, the title track shows The Ordinary Boys a thing or 12 about yob-chanting a modern urban terrace anthem and ‘50 To A £’ takes The Strokes’ ‘The Modern Age’ and hangs it upside-down from the top of a Bethnal Green council block until it confesses to having always wanted to be ‘Going Underground’.
Where we expected 11 puny, style-over-substance Xeroxes of the most recent Babyshambles B-side, here instead stands a band with a comprehensive and sharply honed understanding of the music that birthed them and a devout intent to drag it scowling and roaring into the 21st century. With ‘Hell’s Bells’ on.
This does, unfortunately, mean that, even within its Buzzcock-y 33 minutes, there’s a certain amount of predictable punk retreads to be side-stepped here. ‘Loser’ is yer average Croydon pub band three-chorder that Sham 69 wrote 794 times in April of 1978 alone and ‘Alright In The Morning’ fulfils The Paddingtons’ legal obligation, under the Indie Ska Enforcement Act Of 2005, to include at least two minutes of skanking Clash bits on their debut record. But these are anomalies; more typical is the compulsive shoo-wop jitter-rock of album highlight ‘Panic Attack’, the (no shit) Green Day-esque ‘Worse For Wear’ and ’Tommy’s Disease’ and ace spunk-pop closer ‘Sorry’, produced by that other Svengali of crystallised Britishness, Stephen Street.
Not that Tom Atkin is any kind of N*w M*rr*ss*y, you understand. Hell, in the sphere of contemporary cultural poets he’s barely even the new Lisa Scott-Lee. Sure, there’s references to gun/gang culture in ‘First Comes First’, prostitution in ‘Some Old Girl’, drugs being bad for you and that in ‘50 To A £’ and urban despair in ’Panic Attack’ (“You wanna die?/Go on, commit suicide” – well thanks for your help, Dr Phil), but ‘First Comes First’ fails to speak to the heart and soul of any UK subculture in the way that Hard-Fi epitomise suburban desolation, The Rakes live the alcoholic wage slave anti-dream and Pete himself encapsulates every lost urban romantic on (or, in his case, way over) the edge. What ‘First Comes First’ is, however, is all the passion, rage, filth and fury (and, um, catwalk swagger) of the urch scene blasted – point-blank, both barrels – into your gut. England’s snarling. Mark Beaumont.