Many classic albums shine bright with a legacy that ensures they’re revered and widely credited. Others fly under the radar, their legacy just as potent but their public persona less defined. ‘Cut’ by The Slits fits into the latter category. Barely considered a landmark release in its day, it was quickly usurped by the next new model in the scattergun years immediately after Punk broke. Released in September of 1979, attention was soon on The Clash as they released ‘London Calling’ that December.
As an all-female group, The Slits were undoubtedly notable in the male dominated Rock scene of the late 1970s. They have, however, been subsequently misrepresented. Over the years the tendency in Punk histories has been to see The Slits as an angry, female Sex Pistols with The Slits’ singer Ari Up playing a female Johnny Rotten. This misses the nuance and depth of the band, and the major reasons for their continued influence of Rock.
Pulling from the angular side of Punk as it morphed into Post Punk, the sound of The Slits differed from their contemporaries as they utilised the production skills of Denis Bovell to incorporate Dub and Ska rhythms into their sound. Released shortly before the debut albums by The Specials and Madness, the importance of ‘Cut’ in establishing Reggae rhythms in Post Punk is oft overlooked. Elsewhere, rather than pull influence from the mashed riffs of The Ramones common for Punk contemporaries there is instead the twisting, looping staccato guitar lines of Television. Musically, The Slits were different. The only album from ‘79 to challenge convention in a similar way is the criminally under-appreciated ‘Y’ by The Pop Group with its caterwauling version of Punk Jazz Disco.
Most important to ‘Cut’s’ role in driving future musical culture is the vocal and lyrical force of singer Ari Up. Incorporating Jamaican patois, Ari Up’s half sung, half spoken vocals contained all the spite of The Fall’s Mark E Smith but importantly came from the standpoint of a woman who is not taking your shit anymore. While there are tracks about shoplifting and drug abuse, classic Punk topics, it’s the one-two punch of ‘Love Und Romance’ and ‘Typical Girls’ that form the lyrical heart of this record.
Driven by the rhythms section and featuring Ari’s Jamaican patois, ‘Love Und Romance’ tackles the shackles of romantic relationships, the ownership of women, and the threat of domestic violence. It’s a bold theme, unheard of in mainstream Rock at the time. In juxtaposition is a chorus that, on paper, could be a 50s jukebox Pop hit. Not that the way Ari Up spits it out leaves you with any doubt to the irony and sarcasm contained in it.
‘Typical Girls’ is further nuanced as it takes on the dualism between the misogynistic and patriarchal ways of speaking about “typical girls” and the ways in which women fail or are unable to challenge these stereotypes and patriarchal behaviours. Thus, typical girls variously “can’t control themselves”, “are unpredictable” and “don’t drive well” but also “fall under spells” and “feel like hell”. For a track based on a repeated refrain, there’s significant depth and nuance as the narrative leads us to a final, all important question; “who invented the typical girl?”
These two tracks best define the legacy that The Slits should be remembered for; as a band who looked inwards and asked questions outwardly in a bold, brave and innovative manner. ‘Cut’ is categorically not a Punk infused “Fuck You!” Instead, it’s an immensely self-aware questioning of women’s multitudinal place in society. That this most important aspect of ‘Cut’ has been written out of so many histories is a travesty of Rockist revisionism.
End note: While not included on the original album though added to late reissues, The Slits cover of ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ is a Punk Disco gem that should not be missed.