I’ve always been big on cross-pollination. Any artist that can effectively bend genres and break with conventions will automatically grab my attention. The late, great Lords of the New Church did that in spades, infecting both punk and death rock in the process.
The Lords were a bona fide super group, featuring true punk rock royalty in the form of Stiv Bator of the Dead Boys on vocals, and Brian James of The Damned on guitar. Drummer Nicky Turner of garage legends The Barracudas, and bassist Dave Tregunna of street-punk pioneers Sham 69 filled out the line-up.
In spite of its punk lineage, the Lords’ sound was steeped in straight-up rock ‘n’ roll, with a knack for big anthems and melodic hooks, balanced with gothic atmospherics and politically charged lyrics. Coupled with a tribal image that incorporated punk, glam and goth stylings, its appeal straddled the genres. The band’s live shows were also infamous for Bator hanging himself with his microphone chord, a feat that would nearly kill him on one occasion. From 1982-84, the band released three studio albums, each excellent in its own right.
The eponymous debut (1982) is a seedy concoction of spidery guitars, sleazy bass lines, jungle drums and gothic keyboards. The haunting single “Open Your Eyes,” easily dwarfs the output of the other Goth heavies of the time (The Cure, Siouxsie, et al.) simply because it had killer hooks. Another standout is the slithery, infectious “Russian Roulette.”
Is Nothing Sacred? (1983) saw the band diversifying a bit, incorporating new wave, classic rock and reggae, along with synths, horns and a greater emphasis on Tregunna’s grooving bass. “Dance With Me,” is a dark, hook-filled anti-ballad with bondage themes, while “Johnny Too Bad” has a bouncy, ska feel.
The band’s final studio album The Method to Our Madness (1984) saw it go back to basics to some degree, with darkly flavored punk nuggets such as the title track and “Fresh Flesh,” plus a few eerie slow songs, the seamy, bass-driven “Murder Style” being a fine example.
After its initial studio run, the band would go through a series of lineup changes, sporadically releasing a few things here and there, including a silly take on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” It would all come to a head in 1988, when unbeknownst to Bator; the band took out an ad looking for a replacement singer. Bator would soon find out, and in grand style, wear the ad as a T-shirt during the encore of the band’s disastrous final concert. It was all over for the Lords, and soon after for Bator, who passed away in Paris in 1990.
With just three elusive studio albums, finding additional recorded output has been no easy feat for Lords fans. Now, courtesy of UK label Easy Action comes the stellar box set The Gospel Truth. A treasure trove of live and studio rarities, it also features an informative booklet that recounts the story of this criminally undervalued band.
The set includes a DVD showcasing a stirring set from Vienna, circa 1988, plus four CDs of hard-to-find material. The newly remastered versions of rare studio tracks and demos are especially nice to have. For Lords lovers, they’re practically worth the cost of the set alone.
New reissues from artists of yore:
New York Dolls
Too Much Too Soon
The band that practically started it all gets a deluxe reissue in this svelte, mini-LP package. On the surface, the Dolls had everything—the proto-punk sounds, the arresting androgyny and the larger-than-life personas, with each member a fully formed rock star in his own right. The Dolls were the Rolling Stones’ deviant cousins; emulating their Anglo idols with whatever musical ability they could manage to scrape together. The band also had the late, great Johnny Thunders, the ragged, junkie street-urchin who singlehandedly created punk guitar.
But with all that came the rotting, drug-addled underbelly that ruined any momentum the band had. In spite of all the turmoil, this, the band’s second album (1974) brims with pre-punk shout-a-longs like “Babylon” and “Puss ‘N’ Boots,” plus the ultra-sleazy “Chatterbox,” featuring some of Thunder’s most cutting licks of his cut-short career. (Culture Factory)
Just after the Dolls imploded, front man David Johansen released a string of solo albums before becoming the kooky caricature Buster Poindexter. The first two have recently been reissued in deluxe mini-LP sleeves.
The self-titled debut (1978) is by far Johansen’s strongest post-Dolls offering. A rocking affair from front to back, Johansen sounds reinvigorated with a raunchy, guitar-driven approach that tips its hat to his former band while playing it slightly straighter, toning down some of the campiness that informed the Dolls’ sound. Numbers like “Girls” and “I’m a Lover” are perfect examples, and would put any ambiguity about Johansen’s sexuality to rest, after years of doing his thing in drag.
In Style (1979) was co-produced by Bowie sidekick and guitar god Mick Ronson. Aurally ambitious, the album touches on vintage girl-group sounds the Dolls were so fond of on tracks like “Melody” and “You Touched Me Too,” while strutting its reggae groove on “She Knew She Was Falling In Love.” This was obviously Johansen’s attempt at emulating The Stones’ more modern stylings of the day, but ironically, it would infuriate Dolls die-hards. (Culture Factory)
Chris Spedding’s career has seen the journeyman session guitar hero traverse the rockabilly and power pop universes while just skimming punk’s nether regions.
Originally released in 1976, this solo album sees the axe man playing a raunchy, country-ish set that would’ve actually fit well a decade later with the likes of the Gun Club. Spedding’s playing is trashy, yet technically very sound, which makes one wonder what it would’ve been like if he’d given punk a little more focus. (Culture Factory)
The Flamin’ Groovies are the true unsung heroes of pre-punk rock ‘n’ roll. We’ve all heard about how the Stooges, The Dolls, The Dictators, and the MC5 paved the way, but the Groovies surfaced earlier than most, with a gritty blend of power pop, rockabilly, garage and proto-punk. Formed back in the mid ’60s in San Francisco, the band would go on to release a few influential records over here, with greater success overseas.
Led by guitarists/vocalists Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan, the Groovies were constantly out of step with the times, playing music that was far from in vogue, until it was embraced by punk pioneers such as The Ramones several years later.
Early Groovies albums Supersnazz, Flamingo and Teenage Head still sound raw and exhilarating to this day. And as luck would have it, each has been painstakingly reissued, with superior sound and deluxe repackaging in the mini-LP format. It’s hard for me to pick a favorite from this batch—all three are loaded with electrifying elements of vintage rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, blues and garage rock. But more so, I’m a firm believer that the Groovies’ best bits came with their next batch of releases.
Later numbers such as “Slow Death”—a seamy serenade depicting a junkie binge gone awry—is right up there, with an eerie, slide-guitar refrain that gnaws the psyche. But best of all, is the band’s most beloved song, “Shake Some Action.” Covered numerous times by artists from all over the spectrum, this power pop gem is the standard bearer for the genre. Its ’60s-flavored refrain and massive sing-a-long chorus are instantly infectious. But the real magic lies within the bittersweet melancholy the song conjures up—it’s both tough and slightly sad at once. Brilliant stuff. For fans of vintage punk and power pop, these three early album reissues are still a must-have. (Culture Factory)
The Surf Punks were big on taking the piss out of everything, from Los Angeles pop culture to the surf scene, overweight women and just about everything else you could associate with Sean Penn in the role of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Formed in the late ’70s, the band put out a couple albums to a slight cult following.
Locals Only was the band’s second release. Trying to cash in on the new wave stylings of the day, the album is chock full of dated synths, corny lyrics and silly vocals that try too hard to stoke a laugh. Songs like “No Fat Chicks” bear this out in spades. Playing up the boneheaded side of LA punk, this reissue is definitely an artifact of a very specific time and place. For punk completists, it’s a nice-to-have, but not absolutely essential. (Real Gone)
On the Guest List
The Vibrators hit the scene right smack in the middle of the UK’s first wave of punk, alongside The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Damned. Less political and more rock ‘n’ roll than most of its peers, the band cranked out several albums worth of catchy, straightforward punk rock, all characterized by front man Knox’s sardonic lyrics and in-your-face delivery.
On the Guest List finds the contemporary version of the band recreating the buzz, this time with a few guests on a set of Vibrator classics. Said guests include punk luminaries such as Brian James (The Damned), Wayne Kramer (MC5), Walter Lure (The Heartbreakers), Ross The Boss (The Dictators) and others. Classics like “View from My Cadillac” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Clown” sound weathered and tough, and are good to hear in a reimagined state. And the production sounds crisp and vivid. But these kinds of releases often represent a stopgap between new offerings, and thus, it’ll be interesting to hear what Knox and Co. concoct for us the next time out. (Cleopatra)
The Three O’Clock
The Hidden World Revealed
The Three O’Clock were the undisputed leaders of LA’s “Paisley Underground,” an ’80s movement that merged pop and new wave with ’60s psychedelia. The short-lived scene was enough to score the band a deal with the iconic I.R.S. Records, then a coveted spot on Prince’s Paisley Park label. The early ’80s music scene in Los Angeles was an eclectic mix of punk, post-punk, power pop and new wave among others. The Three O’Clock played a major part in the scene, and was even signed to the classic punk label Frontier at one point.
The Hidden World Revealed collects the band’s early output, from the Frontier period and beyond, where the band was in transition from its punkish beginnings, to its somewhat fey, flower-powered jangle pop. This collection of early recordings, demos and alternate versions showcases the more sensitive side of punk’s bastard offspring with songs such as the infectious “All In Good Time” and the oddly fun “Lucifer Sam.” (Omnivore)
The Way Life Goes
Pop-metal heroes Cinderella quickly became easy pickings for scorn and ridicule by critics and burgeoning grunge fans during the mid ’90s, when trends shifted towards a new strain of so-called alternative music. The truth of the matter is that while the band’s debut album jacket—displaying the four lads adorned in requisite striped spandex, bandanas and massive hair—is one of the more comical covers of the era, Cinderella cranked out more than its fair share of highly crafted hard rock numbers, à la vintage Aerosmith and AC/DC, that came packed with insidious melodies, fist-pumping choruses and traffic-stopping riffs. In spite of the imagery, the band was leagues above most of its contemporaries.
Cinderella’s knack for songwriting came mostly from a single source, frontman Tom Kiefer. On this, his first solo album—that took almost a decade to complete—Keifer re-emerges from a self-imposed exile that found him reeling from multiple throat surgeries, depression and other niceties.
For Cinderella fans, there’s plenty to be stoked about, with a set that includes a clutch of earthy ’70s-styled, hard-rock numbers like “Solid Ground” and “Ain’t That A Bitch.” But, there’s also a rootsy, middle-of-the-road angle that would play well alongside neutered radio titans like The Wallflowers, Counting Crows and Lenny Kravitz. In spite of that, overall, the songs are well written and brimming with reinvigorated energy. (Merovee)
Strictly a cult phenomenon in these parts, UK musician, songwriter and front man Ginger Wildheart never stops working. For the uninitiated, Ginger’s first major band The Wildhearts cranked out a curious blend of technical metal embellished with massive pop hooks. Think: Cheap Trick meets Metallica with Rob Zombie at the mixing board. He’s since gone on to several solo outings, collaborations and side projects, becoming a legend in the UK underground, with scant appearances over here.
His latest offering Hey! Hello! finds the metal guru teamed up with vocalist Victoria Liedtke for a romping set of crunchy, irreverent power pop numbers. Album opener “Black Valentine” sets the tone with a melancholic refrain made whole by heavy, driving guitars. The bulk of the album brims with thick riffs, sunshiny hooks and Ginger’s twisted wordplay, as in the comically brilliant “Swimwear.” While this self-titled offering may skip on some of the progressive tendencies of prior Wildhearts offerings or the experimental side of Ginger’s solo canon, it plays up its power pop with perfection. (The End)
Bostin’ Steve Austin
Fuzzbox was an all-female combo hailing from the UK that played perky, poppy punk with a comedic flair. With a colorful, cartoonish image and fuzzy, garage guitars, the mostly teenage crew cranked out a few minor indie hits in its homeland, while becoming a curious freak show across college radio stations over here.
In spite of the hype, the band’s debut Bostin’ Steve Austin has a few peppy, pop-punk tracks as in “Love Is The Slug” and “What’s The Point.” Rechristened We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It for its American release, the album is not nearly as subversive as the band’s image and hype might suggest. It’s next album, Big Bang would bear this out in spades, rebranding the hapless lasses as a soulless dance-pop combo. (Cherry Red)
For questions, comments or something you’d like to see, drop me a line at Retrohead77@yahoo.com. Cheers, Kaz.