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The late, confrontational Wendy O. Williams was, for a few years at least, the battered face of punk rock. She and her Plasmatics were one of the first acts of the punk era to push their performances beyond the club scene–blowing up cars, smashing televisions, and engaging in public nudity and other acts that made them a police target. BEYOND THE VALLEY OF 1984 addresses the storm of chaos that accompanied their first album and re-focuses the attention on the music. At times as much metal and New Wave as it is punk, the album features the meaty drums of Alice Cooper's Neil Smith and increasingly metallic guitars. Williams uses her croak to maximum effect, flirting with Blondie girl-group pop on “Summer Night” and approaching hardcore on “Sex Junkie.” The album's finale, “Pig is a Pig,” is Williams's revenge on the Milwaukee police who beat her following an arrest.
After the jackhammer, metal-tinged punk rock of their debut album New Hope for the Wretched, the Plasmatics got a lot more ambitious with their second long-player, 1981's Beyond the Valley of 1984. Opening with the arty gloom ‘n’ doom of the opening cut “Incantation,” in which Wendy O. Williams and her bandmates chant in Latin (or something that sounds like it) over a plodding minor-key synthesizer line, Beyond the Valley of 1984 aims to sound bigger, more expansive and more “important” than the purposefully trashy debut, though as a consequence it also sounds a good bit more pretentious, especially when Williams launches a rant against cops, government and the press on the final cut “A Pig Is a Pig” (the latter target rather ironic, given the way the band courted media attention). The album also includes an oddball girl group homage, “Summer Nite,” about Williams losing the man of her dreams at a rock show (the Angels, of “My Boyfriend's Back” fame, add backing vocals), and an eight-minute instrumental, “Plasma Jam,” which wears out its welcome at the half-way mark. However, the band does sound noticeably tighter and more potent on this disc; Richie Stotts and Wes Beech's guitar work is strong enough to pull off the metal-influenced leads they were straining for on New Hope, and the addition of former Alice Cooper skinsman Neal Smith on drums was an inspired choice, with his solid, muscular hard rock chops a genuine improvement over Stu Deutsch's work on the debut (and imagine what a record this could have been if the Billion Dollar Babies had all been hired as Wendy O.‘s backing band?)). And Williams’ vocals are much improved, having developed a welcome touch of nuance in the year separating the two LPs, though she still barks more than she sings. Beyond the Valley of 1984 sounds like the soundtrack to a show which leaves you without the excitement of watching the band blow things up, but it does reveal a more distinct musical personality than the group's earliest recordings, and suggests they could have won a following with the thrash metal crowd if they'd emerged a few years later.
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