Two classic albums from the point when NBZ took their bar-locked R&B and attempted to produce something with wider appeal
y the time of Don’t Point Your Finger’s release in 1981, Nine Below Zero had chiselled a substantial foothold for themselves as guaranteed crowd-pullers on the booze-slick floors of Britain. Their first release in 1980, Live At The Marquee, had aided their ascent; now they needed to up the ante with more considered material.
The band’s second album, Don’t Point Your Finger, was the result of 12 intense days in Olympic Studios with production wizard Glynn Johns. Glynn had already spent more hours than he’d care to count producing the likes of The Faces, The Stones and Led Zeppelin, so committing to this project indicates his enthusiasm for the band. The playing is as tight as you’d expect from a band that had gigged as incessantly as Nine Below Zero had and there’s plenty of fire in the belly. All but three of the 12 tracks are original compositions, thanks mainly to singer/guitarist Dennis Greaves, and they sit comfortably alongside such live staples as Howlin’ Wolf’s Sugar Mama and Roy Head’s Treat Her Right. Disc 2 of this Deluxe Edition, released to mark the band’s 35th anniversary, successfully captures a night at Bristol Old Granary in October 1981 as part of the BBC’s In Concert series, with 16 tracks bobbing on a sea of testosterone-laced sweat and beer.
Glynn Johns was asked to reprise his role a year later for NBZ’s third album, Third Degree, which he happily did. The end result, however, was not so happily received by the record execs at A&M, and the band had to re-record with another producer, Simon Boswell. This volte-face provides us with an opportunity to compare and contrast both versions over 30 years later and reconsider the verdict. Johns appears to have carried on where he left off with the second album, concentrating on keeping the band to the fore and the studio toys in the cupboard,while the Simon Boswell version gently nudges towards early 80s pop.
This is partly due to a much fuller sound and the deft employment of studio effects, but the band had undergone a subtle transition in the meantime, too. The four new songs written by Dennis Greaves were far more commercial than his previous contributions and the introduction of new bassist and vocalist Brian Bethell inspired some neat, previously unconsidered harmony work.
The flirtation with pop fizzled and died – the band split shortly after the release of Third Degree. But they reformed in 1990, and have been recording and gigging consistently ever since. They recently supported The Stranglers on a nationwide UK tour, and with current upstarts The Strypes namechecking them as a key influence, these two reissues offer the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with the early work of this seminal band.
Verdict: An interesting, noteworthy episode in the life of a band that had plenty to shout about