The first release I ever bought by the Exploited was the 1986 cassette, Live at the Whitehouse. I had heard the band a few times on our local college radio station, and I liked what I heard, so I set out to the music store to procure whatever Exploited I could get my hands on (which is how one bought music in the days before downloading). The store I went to wasn’t well-stocked with anything but pop and heavy metal, and Live at the Whitehouse was the only Exploited to be had. As it stands, it wasn’t a great listening experience, as those who have heard it can attest to.
If you are familiar with the Exploited, a live album delivers exactly what you’d expect. The sound is raw, angry and turns to buzzsaw noise in spots. The release I bought was a full live show and featured some great songs, including “Let’s Start a War,” “Horror Epics,” “Wankers,” “I Hate You,” “Dogs of War,” “Sex and Violence,” and “Punk’s Not Dead.” That’s a satisfying line-up of classic Exploited songs despite the dodgy sound. Couple that with cover art that shows a partially destroyed Capitol Building (not the White House, oddly enough) and you can’t help but capture a young punk’s heart.
The band, which has had roughly 3,859 members through its years of existence, has always had its share of controversy, and violence followed many of its shows. (I wasn’t there when it played Airport City Music Hall in PA, but I heard that white power skins maced singer Wattie when he took the stage. For those who remember shows at that venue, skinheads were a constant source of misery, as were the bouncers. The reason for the attack was Wattie’s anti-American beliefs.) For many, the Exploited has always symbolized the best and worst of what punk rock was and should be. For me, it was just an energetic, politically angry band that seemed more interested in slogans than real change. It was entertaining, but nothing I’d formulate a political philosophy around. (Remember the Barmy Army?)
Live at the Whitehouse may have been my first Exploited purchase, but it was far from my last. Sometimes those purchases felt shameful, like when I would purchase really creepy porn from seedy shops reeking of bleach and sweat, but others were moments of sheer celebration. Not every release was worthy of the effort it took to make it, but all of them had moments of sublime chaos. (My own sublime chaos that was linked to the Exploited came when one of the releases was playing on the car stereo as my friends and I were engaged in a high speed chase with a cop. We were winning the race, the flashing cop lights not making the best headway, when we flipped the car. We slid something like 116 feet on the roof until we hit a boulder. As I spat out windshield glass, the cop on the scene told us to get away from the car I was still inside because gas was flooding out and he thought it would explode. The Exploited continued to play on the stereo. Surreal.)
These days the band doesn’t much resemble that which it was in 1986, which is a good thing. Bands should evolve over time. I’m not sure that what the Exploited has become is much worth pursuing, but seeing its skull logo on a shirt still brings a smile to my face even if the new music leaves me kind of cold. I will say, however, that the later stuff is far more cohesive and better produced than the band’s earlier releases. It’s as if the band took the power of metal and matched it with the anger of punk and came up with something that works for it. That said, it doesn’t fully work for me.
At least I have the memories…