Before we get into the nuts and bolts of a lost garage-rock classic, let’s first define what that actually means. Is it music made for mechanics exclusively? Not really. Or is it merely a turn of phrase for self-loathing hipsters who want to sound more street in front of their friends? Well, kind of, at least nowadays. For a quick refresher, the origins of the scene that the term refers to actually go back to the mid 1960s. At the time, hordes of young would-be American bands attempted to emulate the sounds of their more seasoned British idols to wonderfully unrefined effect—making up for their lack of musical prowess with loads of tenacity and sheer rawness.
Bands like The Seeds, Standells, and Chocolate Watch Band were born out of the garage, sold barely any records and would eventually be seen as distant forefathers to the early punk rock scenes. Then, somehow during the early 2000s, bands like The White Stripes and The Hives incorporated some of the early scene’s characteristics into a modern iteration, churning out reverb-drenched retro rock that quickly resonated with the hipster indie set of the day, ultimately landing it squarely in the mainstream—and selling loads of records.
While not nearly as publicized as the original and later scenes, the early ‘80s saw a resurgence of bands that revered the sounds of the past while referencing the fairly recent punk rock scene, which had kicked open the doors for musicians that didn’t fit more conventional molds. Bands from all over the planet plied their trades, cranking out a variety of throwback sounds that benefitted from punk’s DIY ethics. England’s The Barracudas were no exception. The band’s penchant for the surf, garage, and mod sounds of the ‘60s was the perfect fit for the early ‘80s when post-punk was a full-fledged movement.
With a massive new reissue of the band’s debut, Drop Out With The Barracudas, courtesy of Cherry Red Records, it’s time to re-examine this lost classic and put it into the proper context of the era. Formed in the late ‘70s, the band came together through a love of ‘60s garage rock. Canadian singer Jeremy Gluck happened to be visiting London at the time to soak up the blossoming new punk scene. At one particular gig, he mentioned to a fellow audience member about his love of The Seeds which seemed to fall on deaf ears. But overhearing the conversation was guitarist Robin Wills, who happened to be a fellow Seeds fanatic, and a musical partnership was soon born. After a few false starts, the fledgling band soon connected with bassist David Buckley and eventually drummer Nick Turner, who would later go on to be the skinsman of future goth-punk supergroup, Lords of the New Church.
The band started gigging around London, playing with loads of future punk luminaries and drawing a major following for its hybrid of ‘60s-flavored sounds and frenetic live sets. At this point, labels came calling and the band would ultimately sign with EMI.
The band’s debut Drop Out with The Barracudas was released in the UK and elsewhere in 1981 on EMI Records subsidiary Zonophone. Set against a backdrop of a variety of buzzworthy musical strains created in the wake of punk just a few years earlier, the record is especially distinctive in that it follows two very different but complementary paths. The first few tracks (or side 1) are largely characterized by the jangly, introspective early power pop sounds reminiscent of The Byrds and Big Star, but with a slightly somber tone and lyrical content.
The opener “I Can’t Pretend” starts out with a punchy riff and driving beat but ultimately takes a melancholy turn once the sobering lyrics and melodies kick in. The Johnny Thunders-esque slide guitar bits lend a slightly off-kilter edge. “We Are Living In Violent Times” slows things down with dashes of paranoia embellished with sterling melodic harmonies. “Codeine” is actually a cover of 60’s folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie’s lackadaisical anti-drug anthem, all dolled up with psychedelic flourishes and crunchy guitars. “I Saw My Death In A Dream Last Night” is quintessential garage rock, reminiscent of ‘60s cult heroes The Music Machine. Gloomy melodies backed with a Farfisa organ over a driving beat and you’ve got the formula down pat. But the band’s conviction to its craft lends it an authentic feel. “Somebody” is a driving plea for clarity and self-identity set to a punk-rock racket and chain-gang chorus.
The second batch of songs takes things in a far sunnier direction. Reminiscent of the California surf sounds of the mid-’60s, The Barracudas channel their inner Beach Boys while wearing their punk influences on their sleeves. “Summer Fun” incorporates multi-part harmonies with a tightly-wound and hyperactive approach reminiscent of The Jam. “I Wish It Could be 1965 Again” is Phl Spector on speed, with a dramatic intro and soaring harmonies expressing the band’s penchant for the past. “California Lament” opens with an epic, harmony-laden acapella intro that accelerates into a Jan and Dean-style refrain set to a power pop soundtrack.
To add further confusion to the mix, the album was released with two different covers. One displays the band decked in Victorian-flavored dandy threads and striking a serious pose. The alternate cover depicts them with a surfboard in hand and goofy grins from ear to ear. Each cover design signifies the two distinctive tones of the album, which, over the years, have helped define it as a cult favorite.
This new reissue has everything you need to get familiarized with the album and all the happenings with the band at the time. Disc 1 features the entire album along with bonus tracks that were later included on subsequent pressings. Disc 2 comes packed with demos, many of which were culled from Robin Wills’ personal cassette collection. The third disc offers live recordings, including a number of rehearsals that show the band at its hungriest. The set comes in a glossy box with a colorful book including interviews, memorabilia, and band shots. Drop Out With The Barracudas—and its schizophrenic approach to post-punk—would end up being the only offering by this classic lineup, but the band would carry on in various other forms over the next few decades. A bonafide classic with both fans and critics alike, this album has never sounded better nor come more complete than this latest reissue.
For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a note. @jimkaz1