Rock revisionists are always looking for that “lost” band, or lost classic, the connection to the past no one has ever heard before, or better yet, the connection so few people know that its presence is a mere whisper.
For a while, the lore went a bit like this: The Sloths, a 60’s SoCal proto punk band was one of the great “lost” garage rock bands and this newly re-released record, Back From The Grave, fifty years in the making is their document laying that claim. The back story to Back From The Grave is almost too “Behind The Music” to be believed, from singles deemed too-hot-for-radio (“Makin Love”) to the band’s unceremonious breakup, onto the inclusion of a track on a mid-80’s garage compilation, to the punk band’s triumphant leader turned lawyer hiring private detectives to find wayward band mates.
The Sloths have been around since garage rock’s primordial rise. The thing is, they haven’t really been The Sloths the whole time.
Much of Back From The Grave is teeming the blues/garage rock standards. They rip off a few spare, raw-boned rockers, like on “A Cutie Named Judy” with some really nice percussion/vocal interplay that, while not terribly innovative, sparks off as something inspired on the FM drive-time rock radio dial. Sometimes the production on the record is more polished that garage fans will enjoy, but the songwriting aesthetic is spot on. “Haunted” is a masterfully slick rendering of summer of love, British invasion guitar and vocal harmonies and my favorite track is the last, “I Survived 27” which feels like The Sloths tipping their hat to the half-century lapse in activity.
The connection I find most curious on Back From The Grave is between Doors-inspired, baroque pop/psychedelics and garage rock. When The Sloths are rocking their brand of summery, Sunset Strip blues-rock, it feels a lot like Jim Morrison led classic rockers are alive and well. Forgive the blanket statement here, but The Doors have waned in influence these days.
A few of the tracks on Back From The Grave tend toward George Thorogood territory. The harmonica blues on “End of My Rope” and “Before I Die” feel like songs you’d hear at your local roadside barbecue pit. This might have felt fresh in the early 60’s when the band was conceiving of their sound, but now the sound is squarely, well, square. It’s old man rock. Another criticism might be that the vocals, while strongly evoking Iggy Pop (especially over the darker guitars of “One Way Out” a mid-life crisis track gone wrong) they evoke older Iggy Pop. They’re leathery and feel saddle sore, but come off as breathless in places.
The great “lost” garage rock band? Sure, I’ll buy that. The story of The Sloths is enough to get listeners in, and the album is enough to keep them.