Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Nomads - Showdown! (1981-1993) [SFTRI, 1994]

Sweden's government is way cooler than our government.

I make this astounding statement because The Nomads' 1995 tour was sponsored by the cultural department of their homeland. Apparently, Swedish working musicians get grants to do overseas tours with the intent of spreading their country's culture. Ironically, The Nomads' stock-in-trade is shit-hot cover versions of mostly American rock 'n' roll artists. That's not to say their influence hasn't touched many draped in the Stars 'N' Stripes. Without The Nomads' early championing of Northwest garage gods The Sonics, would Dave Crider have formed the Mono Men and started Estrus Records? Were it not for their laudable 1984 album Outburst, would Third Bardo's "I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time" continue to be referenced as a lost '60s classic 25 years down the line? If you take away The Nomads' identifying label, would the drummer from Dead Moon have a T-shirt to wear? Yes or no, these Swedes deserve scads of credit for knowing rock 'n' roll's deep history. Even in 2010, most American bands are too clueless to repeat it.

Think Vampire Weekend would bite the neck of something as scrumptious as The Dictators' "The Next Big Thing"? Leave it to the boys in blue 'n' yellow capes to draw blood with sharpened incisors. Substituting the original's wrasslin'-inspired boast for the intro from Aerosmith's "Back In The Saddle" might seem like the worst trade since the Red Sox's Ruth-fer-junk swap with the Bronx Bombers, but the simple-yet-powerful main riff of the song is wisely untouched. Via a subtle lyric change, The Nomads' signature mark is left on the flesh ("I knocked 'em dead in Dallas/Didn't know we were Swedes"). Back in Beantown, I've always dug the Toxic Twins' treatment of the old barnyard favorite "Milk Cow Blues", because it simultaneously respects tradition and makes its own kind of trouble. Whereas Aero's take mixes harmonicas and heavy metal, The Nomads meld occasionally droning vocals a la The Fall's Mark E. Smith with fuzzy guitar tones. Help! Bessie's udders are sore! If there's ever been a more apt pairing of underdog mentality, it's a band called The Zeros and a tune entitled "Wimp." The L.A. punkers' weight-training program contains enough of a pop supplement to compare their presses to the Ramones' efforts. The Swedes' turn at the bar has them screaming, "MORE WEIGHT!" Heavier than The Hellacopters and Entombed combined, The Nomads' record lift qualifies 'em for the finals of World's Strongest Band. Minor Threat's surprisingly jangly rendition of The Standells' "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" versus the Swedes' reverent run-through? While both attorneys can make strong cases for their clients, this judge bangs the gavel in favor of MT. One question: Upon hearing "Good Guys" for the first time, did Ian MacKaye get himself a crew cut? Link Wray's "Fire And Brimstone" is a track from his 1970 gospel album. Gee-Zuz, what does the praise band at Wray's church sound like? The Nomads' reading comes across like a John Doe/Exene pet project. Haunting stuff. Bend the guitars a little more, and Aussie noisemakers The Scientists would enjoy their time at the pulpit. From a country that once owned our white-wigged ancestors, England gave birth to a god known on a first-name basis as Lemmy. He wrote a song called "Motorhead," which would later become his band's handle. The lyrics of said composition are difficult to completely understand, but the Swedes' hoe-down version clears up much of the haze. I'm able to hear something about a "stick of gum" and a "parallelogram." Cool. When not on tour, Lemmy (AKA God) likes to sit at a bar in Los Angeles and play tabletop trivia games. Unless his drink is being refreshed, God is not to be bothered.

The Nomads' own material such as "Surfin' In The Bars" (one of the best tunes Radio Birdman never wrote), "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" (featuring Johnny Thunders himself), "Lowdown Shakin' Chills," "Knowledge Comes With Death's Release" and "Real Gone Lover" is also worthy of being covered by like-minded outfits in the present day. Still, if you're looking to hire a band whose set list is as hard-hitting as the jukebox rotation at Blondie's Bar None in Virginia Beach, keep your jones away from the snack bar and send these Swedes plane tickets.

Not to worry, Sweden's cultural department will reimburse the airfare.
-Gunther 8544

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Alarm- Declaration (IRS Records, 1984)

With hair bigger than Bono’s ego and an anthemic, socially aware repertoire, The Alarm never really escaped the shadow of Clash and U2 comparisons. But unlike their Irish counterparts who merely thought their music had the power to alter the course of human history, this Welsh foursome was the legit heir to Strummer and company’s warrior legacy. Declaration, The Alarm’s full-length debut, was largely comprised of singles recorded throughout the band’s infancy, and as such it burns with youthful idealism and a bold purpose bordering on pretension. Every song comes off like an intended anthem – the barnstorming set list closer that incites an engrossed crowd to go home and change the world, to overcome the forces that oppress by any means necessary. Such aspirations would be hard to stomach…if the songs weren’t so freaking good! Who can manage to listen to “Sixty Eight Guns” and not want to immediately run out into the street and start kicking the oppressors’ asses? Not I! With its rousing chorus and indelible melody, it’s not just a call to arms – it’s a great, even classic, rock n’ roll song.

Originally a punk band out of Rhyl, Wales called Seventeen, The Alarm adopted a new moniker to go with an evolved sound and a more pronounced political angle. But while the Top 20 U.K. hit “Sixty Eight Guns” is an obvious nod to punk’s high-powered indignation, much of the album favors an acoustic/folk approach that’s more Dylan than Clash, more Woody Guthrie than The Jam. “Blaze of Glory” demonstrates that you don’t need high voltage to make a soaring anthem, while “Tell Me” improves immensely upon the early U2 blueprint. And the songs that rock really rock. “Where Were You Hiding When the Storm Broke?” is like “Sixty Eight Guns” V.2; “Marching On” is pure jangly adrenaline. These anthems, while vague about specific social ills, call for a collective fight against all that ails the world. Lyrics about fighting the good fight and standing up against the powers-that-be abound - and with music this convincing, who could possibly resist joining The Alarm’s army? Sign me up now! I’ll grab my hairspray, cowboy boots, and weapon stockpile and meet you at the town square. Who are we fighting? Does it really matter?!

I’ve never been able to forgive U2 for its grandiose self-righteousness, yet the very same qualities about The Alarm have always struck me as endearing. Maybe that’s because U2 never delivered a song as genuinely rousing and triumphant as “Sixty Eight Guns”. Or maybe it’s because The Alarm came off more like soldiers on the street than bloated messiah figures casting judgment from pearly thrones. The best “socially conscious” rock bands are the ones who’d be equally awesome if they were singing about girls or Twinkies instead – the ones who understand that great tunes will outlive even the most pressing social issues. Declaration, for all its naiveté and wanna-be magnitude, could be thoroughly enjoyed even by someone who didn’t understand a word of English. While far from flawless, it’s a terrific, exciting rock album that sounds surprisingly undated today. Buy it, blast it, viva la revolution!

-Josh Rutledge

"Sixty Eight Guns" video:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Compulsion - Comforter (Interscope, 1994)

To the members of Compulsion,

Thank you for making my first appearance at Lynnhaven Mall in over five years an enjoyable one. Last time 'round, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a Wherehouse Music store closing. Dude, all CDs were marked down to 90%! A band you guys probably influenced, Ash, had a two-disc anthology with A- and B-sides priced at $2.99! Other extractions on the dig included nuggets from Superdrag, UFO and Elliott Smith. Not a bad haul, huh? Several weeks ago, I planted my shovel at fye -- which is now upstairs near the food court. A fellow treasure hunter had already combed through the soil. In his hands were 15-20 discs with unidentifiable markings. Any fear of true gold being in the pile was mitigated, when the misguided man asked an employee for the whereabouts of The Doors' Waiting For The Sun. As the automaton was button-mashing, the paunchy pursuer spat, "Elektra Records, 1968. I could do your job!" Son, how about doing some shopping for shirts first? Unsightly portions of your navel and belly fur were more exposed than Janet Jackson's tweat at a halftime show. That Ben-from-"Grizzly Adams" look might play well for the bear hunters at The In-Between bar in Kempsville, but the mixed crowd inside a retail establishment prefers the innocuousness of Winnie The Pooh. Also, please try to curb the A.M. alcohol intake. Goddamn, you reeked like Mad Jack's whiskey flask! Finally, learn to control your snoring-while-standing breath volume. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: 1)yoga or 2)suicide. See you in 2015. Or not.

Sorry, Compulsion, for straying from the subject. You will get my full attention in the next paragraph, OK? Have y'all ever heard of Idlewild? They are also a band you guys probably influenced. I love their album The Remote Part, but the latter-day release with white lettering and red background was middling. Thus, it was placed back in the dusty bins near Billy Idol's lame-ass Whiplash Smile. If only Sid were still around to kick him in the gums... Besides Comforter, the other CD in my wheelbarrow was a 17-song collection from the Suburbs. Familiar with 'em? They were a pretty cool art-punk outfit from Minneapolis. Imagine Bryan Ferry collaborating with Wire. That's the sort of find where if I don't get it now, I won't see the damn thing for another ten years. Definitely worth $3.99 for "Love Is The Law" alone -- which was once featured on an episode of "Roseanne."

I'll work my way around the table from the left. Josephmary on lead vocals? Garret Lee on guitar and backing vocals? Sid Rainey on bass? Jan-Willem Alkema on drums? It's a pleasure to meet you all. I understand Compulsion were part of a UK movement called the "New Wave Of New Wave." Among your contemporaries in the fold were These Animal Men, S*M*A*S*H and Elastica. To be frank and a furter, I'm only cognizant of the latter act. However, if y'all were collectively responsible for nuking the likes of Happy Mondays, Pop Will Eat Itself, Jesus Jones, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and EMF (They're crumbelievable!), then the ales are on me. After 20 or so spins of Comforter on the not-quite-gentle cycle, I hereby declare Compulsion to be the Kings Of The NWONW! Elastica will remain the Queens, if that's OK with you. Musically, y'all conjure up many of the qualities that made millions of punkers and plebes alike fall in love with Nirvana. Passionate screams. Expert stick work. Bend-yer-brain lyrics. I also detect a quirky bent which tips its silly headgear to Surfer Rosa/Doolittle-era Pixies. Are y'all into field hockey players? There were rumors. Ride the tiger, River Euphrates! Staying in the Boston area, artful touches a la Mission Of Burma can often be felt in the song structure and phrasing. I'm sure you agree "Academy Fight Song" and "...Revolver" are two of the greatest anthems ever. If not, stay just as far from me... Just joking! Man, I tried fanning you dudes on Facebook, but my search for a page came up drier than yours truly at a pool party. Should I enter "Compulsion UK"? Or "Compulsion - band"? Or do you have an ironic listing such as "We Who Hate Compulsion"? Talk to me, brougham!

Speaking of the social network filled with folks you barely talk to in the real world, I posted the opening lines of "Rapejacket" on my wall ("Tom's in the bathroom/Trying to end his life/Sue's in the kitchen/Hiding all the knives"). The only person to reply was my bud Josh -- who assists me in the effort to rewrite the Trouser Press Record Guide. Of course, any album that commences with those lyrics is off to an awesome start. 'Tis a shame the guy in the song is suicidal and uncomfortable in his own skin. What kind of jacket is it? Leather? "Miami Vice"? Denim? "Thriller"? Am I crazy to think that "Delivery" could be a '90s take of the Sex Pistols' "Bodies"? I mean, child abandonment is really the same as abortion, right? When you bellow, "Time will never destroy your heart," let's hope the message applies to both mother AND child. Have you ever seen "Hoarders" on A & E? At least seven people I've encountered in my life could be on that show. The sponges-for-hands paranoiac in "Domestique," however, would be the star of an alternate program called "Bleachers" ("Disinfect/Every thing/Look at that!/It's in the kitchen!/It's in the bathroom!/My kids will get it!"). Were you on an REM kick during the session for "I Am John's Brain" ("Inventing enemies/Dying by degrees/Make the children weep/Millions are asleep/Elevated creep/Feel addiction seep/Harbour of the dead/Nestled in your head")? Just wondering. Count me as a fellow fan. Damn, Burma would love to claim "Oh My Fool Life" as a track on any of their recent recordings. You could loan the instrumental midsection to Sonic Youth, also. Favorite part: "I saw a robbery once. I was a witness/Somebody called the police. They said, 'Who did this?'/And I described them so well, in about a minute/The way they looked at me then, you'd think I did it". Lastly, did you really cause a disturbance on "Air-Raid For The Neighbours"? One generation's ear candy is another's discord ("You'll be safer in the cellar/Underground, my dear/We will come back in the morning/When we know it's clear"). I'm on both sides of the fence, actually. If it's rock, I'll say, "Turn it up!" If it's rap, I'll say, "Turn it off!"

Farewell, Kings!

Your pal,
-Gunther 8544

The Donnas- self-titled (Super*Teem! Records, 1997)

Having made for themselves a long and highly successful career out of reviving the tried-and-true stylings of KISS and the Crue, The Donnas have almost made us forget about their brief role as the nubile faces of Darin Raffaelli’s girl group aspirations. In fact, there is a large percentage of the band’s current fan base that would probably have the bad taste to not even like the first Donnas album. Written, produced, and perhaps even largely performed by Raffaelli, The Donnas was the most talked-about punk rock LP of 1997, and probably rates as the greatest Ramones rip-off album ever issued.

The concept was simple yet brilliant: re-do the first Ramones LP as if it had been written for The Shangri-Las, and have the guy from Supercharger record it on a basement four track. This magical convergence of all things awesome (‘90s No Cal garage punk, ‘60s girl groups, and of course, The Ramones) was too true to miss, and this semi-mythical band came off as the baddest of bad-ass girl gangs. You couldn’t help wanting it to be real - that these four gals really were ruling school at Palo Alto Senior High in their matching black t-shirts - huffing inhalants, smoking cheeba, and stealing other girls’ boyfriends, sometimes by violent means. Girls wanted to be them, and guys wanted to fuck them (it was the bass player I was after). Yet novelty was only a small part of the equation. Raffaelli, a premiere rock n’ roll tunesmith (Shame on you if you don't own any Supercharger music!), penned an incredible batch of songs for his jailbait proteges. And lead singer Brett “Donna A.” Anderson delivered the material with a just-right mix of libidinous gusto and teenage boredom. 13 years after this album’s release, songs like “Let’s Go Mano!”, “Get Rid of that Girl”, and “Huff All Night” are as ultra-fun and irresistible as ever, buoyed by delightfully primitive three-chord riffing and delinquent-cheerleader backing vocals. And as a textbook slice of girl group greatness, “I’m Gonna Make Him Mine (Tonight)” genuinely ranks right up there with the very best offerings of Spector or Morton.

Vaulted to underground fame thanks to this release, The Donnas signed to Lookout! Records and freely indulged their fondness for throwback metal. The rest is history, and for better or worse the “real” Donnas were an entirely different group from the one Raffaelli immortalized on wax (as they’ve shown us time and time again, they really can play!). But so what? The band liked these old tunes well enough to re-record a few of them for their recent best-of collection, so it’s not like they’re running from the legacy. And whether you consider it a true Donnas album or a mainly a Darin Raffaelli solo project, The Donnas is sheer rock n’ roll perfection.

-Josh Rutledge