Comprising guitarist/ vocalist Davey Burdon (Leatherface), drummer Neil Bassett (Golden Virgins) and bassist Dave Lyon (The Coyote Men), FORMER CELL MATES are a Sunderland supergroup of sorts who have united to bring us a ferocious, old-skool hardcore punk album with "Hustle".
Burdon's pedigree alongside gargle growler extraordinaire Frankie Stubbs in Leatherface in itself suggests "Hustle" may well owe something of a debt to Husker Du, and the fact their label is called Newest Industry (a key cut on HD'S still-genius "Zen Arcade" double album) is also something of a dead giveaway, so it's no great surprise when the abum's opening cuts "Jumping At Shadows" and "Pretty Dress" come barreling out the speakers with ratchety riffs and searing tempos recalling our late Minneapolis heroes - as well as the inevitable UK reference points such as Leatherface and Snuff.
So far, so meat and potatoes, you'd say, and you'd not be wrong. Except that just when you've got Former Cell Mates comfortably pigeonholed, they take great delight in crowbarring their way out with some relish. Take "Rocky 3", for example, where FCM suddenly do a respectable take on The Police circa "Outlandos D'Amour" (well, if you ignore Burdon's wounded hod carrier vocals). Or "Old Shoes Fit Best", which is as desperate and raggedly tight as "Let It Be"-era Replacements. Or "Inhaler", which is (whoa there, boy) almost a ballad with neat guitar licks and Burdon actually singing. And no irony intended as far as I can hear, neither.
Typically, they then plunge into the seething hardcore vortex of "Sonic Stamp" just to shake you up again, but hang around a while longer and you'll again stumble on some welcome surprises, like the menacing, staccato excitement of the Ruts-y "Duh Duh Blah Blah" and the - sit down now please - acoustic guitars, brushed drums, soulful backing vocals and drifting harmonica of the lovely "Sparkle", which might just be the very best track here.
Yes, there are times ("Shit Wagon", "Last Chance") when "Hustle" falls back on the growling vocals and pneumatic riffing the likes of FCM'S North-Eastern forbears like Crane and China Drum were peddling years back, yet even here the band's individual idiosyncracies (Burdon's flashy way with a solo, Lyon's inherently funky playing, Bassett's obsession with his cowbell) stand them in good stead, and there's actually precious little here that requires judicious editing in the long run.
"Hustle", then, bears a lengthier consideration than you might initially have been willing to afford it. Instead of wanting to have these Former Cell Mates banged up for being perpetual hardcore offenders, you might find yourself baking a cake and sneaking a file into it to help them out.