Friday, December 02, 2005

TERRELL'S TUNE-UP: A WORTHY CONSPIRACY

So you thought The Hives were the only serious high-voltage guitar band to come out of Scandinavia? Think again.

The (International) Noise Conspiracy is one exciting band of Swedes whose albums almost, though not quite live up to their live performance.

On the new (I)NC CD, Armed Love, Dennis Lyxzen and the boys continue on their strange path of aggressive socialist lyrics and even more aggressive music.

While The Hives are armed with personality and humor in addition to their musical chops, these guys are all hopped up on rhetoric.

“The (International) Noise Conspiracy calls for a change,” proclaims the band’s Web site bio. “Now is the time for questioning, organizing and action. The political left needs to take the step back into the mainstream and the open air to let people know that there's an alternative to this barbaric state of the world today.”

(They’re not completely humorless. An earlier (I)NC song was titled "Capitalism Stole My Virginity.")

“To have rhythm and revolution/Seems like an easy solution/But right now we‘re gonna set it all on fire” Lyxzen sings on the title song, basically proclaiming the Conspiracy’s underlying philosophy.

“We got guns for everyone … We got love for everyone,” he proclaims on one song.

The Conspiracy comes across like a modern -- but not too modern -- version of the MC5. Or imagine if Rage Against the Machine had started out on Shindig?

Few other bands could get away with singing lines like “No more dreams about the power structure/Now we’re on the move,” (from “Landslide”) or “I don’t want to have to wait forever/I want freedom on this side of Heaven,” (from “This Side of Heaven.”) Few bands could even get away with having a song titled “Communist Moon” these days: “Let’s share all our dreams tonight under a communist moon,” Lyxzen bubbles.

All this would sound like so much left-wing flotsam and dribble except one thing.

These damned commies are good!

Armed Love is produced by Rick Rubin, who contrary to popular notion doesn’t just work on reviving the careers of senior citizens like the late Johnny Cash, Donovan and, most recently Neil Diamond. He’s captured the sweaty essence of the band.

One strange aspect of this album: Somewhere along the line the group lost its keyboard player, Sara which is an important part of their sound. (Reviewing their set last year at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin I compared them with Steppenwolf, a truly underrated band from the late ‘60s known for their keyboards as well as their guitars.)

Rubin compensates for this loss by supplying guest keyboardists, including the likes of Benmont Trench (of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers) and, even more impressive, Billy Preston. It works on this album, but I hope they find a permanent organist.

Also recommended

Beachhead
by The Fleshtones. There’s a song on this album called “Late September Moon.” I don’t think it’s a communist moon. When they sing “I Want the Answers,” I don’t think they are addressing the song to The White House. Indeed you won’t find much in the way of politics on this or any other other Fleshtones album I’ve heard. (O.K., they had an early song called "Atom Spies," but that was a surfy instrumental that sounded a lot like the "Batman" theme.) Their only mission is to praise “Pretty Pretty Pretty” women, encourage good lovin’ in every state of the union and spread the gospel of what they call “Super Rock.”

But like the (International) Noise Conspiracy, this American band revels in old-fashioned fuzzed-up guitar/cheesy keyboard rock. In fact The Fleshtones are one of the only contemporary “garage” bands that enthusiastically embraces the term and the concept of “garage-band” rock.

Maybe it’s their age. The band has been around for almost 30 years now, starting out in the mid ‘70s in Queens, New York. Singer/organist Peter Zaremba, guitarist Keith Streng and drummer Bill Milhizer have been the band from the start.

They were contemporaries of The Cramps, a band with whom they often are compared. However, while The Cramps leaned more towards horror and other B-movie imagery, The Fleshtones tended to avoid obvious shtick.

Still, they sounded -- and still sound -- like they memorized every song of the entire Nuggets box set.

About half of Beachhead was recorded in Detroit and produced by Jim Diamond of The Dirtbombs, while the other half was recorded in North Carolina by Southern Culture on The Skids’ Rick Miller. Although the band touts this as some kind of “North vs. South” concept, Diamond and Miller have similar sensibilities, at least when it comes to The Fleshtones.

You won’t find much artsy stuff here, just the hard-driving Fleshtones Super Rock. A little retro -- “I Want the Answers,” for instance, has a melody similar to The Standells’ “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and The Romantics’ “What I Like About You” -- but vital enough to rock without nostalgia.

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