Let’s just start with “Silver Lining.” This song has everything a punk rock song should have. It comes galloping out of the speakers with a heroic drum riff and perfectly skanking horn section (courtesy of British band The Q-Tips) like the national anthem of Punktopia and levels a series of socially conscious, class warfare lyrical accusations at the listener ultimately offering hope and a silver lining (get it?). Upon first hearing this song I felt like there was more to punk than just The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. This was substantive, hard-hitting commentary played with absolute punk authority. Coming out of Belfast, Ireland in 1977 Stiff Little Fingers really hit their stride with this, their third album in 1981. They claim they were trying to produce an album of all singles, and in a perfect world, every one of these songs would be a chart smash. Stiff Little Fingers never made much of a dent on the charts Stateside, and, truth be known, they were never a first tier band in the U.K. as history would have it. Damn though, listening to Go For It now it is hard to understand why this band didn’t rule the earth.
Much of the difficulty with punk (and rock in general) sustaining itself is that so much of the driving force is based on youth and dissatisfaction and any band that hangs around long enough to get good at songwriting and performing loses that angry spark that was the genesis of the whole thing. Stiff Little Fingers have, to this day, toiled in a kind of working-class netherworld of pubs and gigs that has kept them remarkably focused on their original sound. Go For It is just brimming with great, anthemic songs. Opening with “Roots Radicals Rockers and Reggae,” their revved up version of a Bunny Wailer song, it is obvious that this was the very punky reggae party that Bob Marley sang about on his hit; a group of working-class white kids turned on by the elevated consciousness of the exotic Rastaman. They follow with songs about relationships (abusive and otherwise), politics, homesickness, pissing off the neighbors and many of the subjects that informed Irish youth culture at the time. Songwriting mainstay Jake Burns is an insightful yet self-deprecating songwriter with the common man’s touch. Although they have been compared to The Clash for many years, in American terms they have the urgency and writing chops of bands like X or The Blasters. There is something comforting about listening to a band with something on their mind.
Musically, Go For It betrays a group of seasoned and skilled musicians making highly energetic and catchy music in an era when punk was fading and new wave was ascendant. Like their contemporaries The Saints, Television or Magazine, Stiff Little Fingers were making music for a thoughtful world audience, yet they remained a relatively regional phenomenon true to their punk-rock roots.
- Paul Epstein