Richard James Havis
When is a punk band not a punk band? When it's Penetration, that's when. After establishing their name with two brash punk singles, the band hired a young heavy metal guitarist, radically reworked their sound and released Moving Targets, their exceptional debut LP.
The album, which was originally released in luminous vinyl, stands out from most British punk releases because of the high quality of the musicianship. The clever guitar playing gives it an enduring, almost classic quality. But back in 1978, it split the band's following. Many felt that Penetration had betrayed the punk ethos.
The music might have confused many, but the credibility of Penetration - who took their name from a song by Iggy and the Stooges - was never in doubt. They were one of the first wave of British punks, supporting bands such as the Buzzcocks and the Stranglers. Their first single, Don't Dictate, became a punk anthem, with its anti-authoritarian 'Don't Dictate to Me' chorus and thrashed backing track. Penetration's secret weapon was singer and band leader Pauline Murray's melodious voice, which was powerful and textured. Murray (above) could scream like the best of them, but her sound also possessed a rare soothing quality.
What shocked listeners of Moving Targets was the presence, one minute into the second track, Life's a Gamble, of a guitar solo. Guitar solos were the sworn enemies of the New Wave, and this was heresy. What's more it was a tasteful, spiralling guitar solo that wouldn't have sounded out of place in some old wave heavy rock. This melodic lead guitar continued throughout the whole album. Some Penetration fans thought it gave the band a special sound. Others threatened to hang themselves in shame. Things weren't helped by the fact that Fred Purser, the new guitarist, looked like one of the enemy - he had long hair.
Today no one cares about such matters, and it's safe to say there are no bad tracks on Moving Targets. Vision and Silent Community have a gothic air of mystery, while Future Daze and Lovers of Outrage rock hard. The band successfully manage to bring their own character to the two covers that complete the set. Their version of the Buzzcocks' Nostalgia is harder and more fluid than the sentimental original, while the version of Patti Smith's Free Money is hard rock, pure and simple. Murray's voice soars beautifully over a soundtrack of chugging guitars as she pays tribute to her musical hero.
Penetration fans bought Moving Targets, but many were irritated by its rock edge. The tensions of the fans were mirrored within the band; some members agreed the guitars weren't punk enough. Penetration recorded one more album, an interesting set titled Coming Up for Air, which took their experiment with rock and punk even further. The LP tanked, and a disillusioned Murray split up the band.
Guitarist Purser later found a home in the New Wave of the British heavy metal scene, playing lead guitar in the awful Tygers of Pan Tang from 1982 to 1983. Murray existed on the sidelines until 2001 when she reformed Penetration, who are still playing tracks from Moving Targets live today.