Between 1980's Scavenged Luxury EP and 1982's Homeland, the band slowed down and developed a sense of rhythm: dark, even somber, but rhythmic, almost funky at times. Widely reviled by hardcore kids when it was first released, this LP has slowly been making the internet rounds and the band's finally (I hope) getting their due as unsung path-breakers in the move away from hardcore punk and towards something more considered and intelligent. Mission of Burma are usually held up as the standardbearers of U.S. art punk, along with the No Wave crowd, but Middle Class' musical progression is quite impressive: hailing from a suburban backwater, they defied the nullnode, idiotic simplicity of the California punk scene to jump straight in the deep end of UK-style post-punk with this LP.
The LP opens with "The Call": a glacial piece of postpunk framed by an ominous bassline and distant, lumbering drumwork. Jeff Atta's voice has done a 180" from 1979's Out of Vogue: there, he hollered and shouted over the impossibly rapid guitar, trying to keep up with the rhythm section. Here, Atta's presence is funereal, almost sepulchral: his voice echoes in and around the instrumentation, speaking allegorically and obliquely of frigidity, miscommunication, tension. There's anxiety everywhere, a sense of imminent crisis. "A Skeleton at the Feast" ratchets up the tension a notch, as Mike Patton slams out a bit of cold riddim. The chorus injects a bit of light, with cymbals crashing over Atta's injunction to "split the night right open/see all the secrets there...."
One of the strange coincidences of post-punk is that Middle Class was slowing down and grooving out while Gang of Four, comparatively at least, started rocking out on 1981's Solid Gold. "Mosque" is midway between the jerky post-punk of early Gang and the solemnity of Homeland's darker tracks: an ambiguous tale of revolution in the Islamic world ("sins of all the fathers/visited upon the sons....a plague of liberation, a plague of liberation"), the music is jerky, writhing within a tightly controlled framework. "Ritual and Deceit," with its effects-laden, gothic opening, marks the beginning of the end, marking time until the majestically sparten closer, "Everything."
It's fitting that this was the band's last recording. There's a sense of finality here, that the Middle Class had come full circle from the impassioned savagery of Out of Vogue to the glacial reserve of Homeland. From the tentative, groping basslines of "The Call" to the chanted chorus of the closer, "Everything" ("I've got a lot to learn/about the price of dreams/I've got a lot to lose/I've got everything...."), this LP is the sounds of doors slamming, people dancing nervously as night falls, of lights going out everywhere.
To conclude an overly long review: this is one of the (heretofore) forgotten classics of the U.S. underground of the 1980s. If you don't believe me, download the LP and find out for yourself. As far as I know, no one has re-pressed the LP.
You should, however, buy the benefit LP that Frontier Records recently released; proceeds go to Mike Atta's cancer fund. Help the dude out, he helped found hardcore, kiddies!
*EDIT, 4.2.14: I fixed the link, the file should work now.*
*None of this is to besmirch the Bad Brains, who were equally adept at breaking out of the hardcore ghetto, besides being about a million times more talented, musically, than 99.99% of all other musicians of the 1980s; throw on I Against I if you dunno what I'm talkin' about, punk!