A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 18, 2008
Nothing like a little apocalyptic paranoia to make a body want to rock. And you’ll find plenty of that on We Have You Surrounded, the new album by The Dirtbombs.
On nearly every song, singer/guitarist Mick Collins seems to be looking over his shoulder and not liking what he sees. Civilization is decaying, burning. The future’s so dim Collins can’t wear his shades. The end is near, and everyone’s out to wreck his flow.
There’s even a twist with the album title. We Have You Surrounded sounds triumphant. But there’s no song by that name on the album. Instead, there’s one called “They Have Us Surrounded” — a change of perspective or perhaps a fatal turnabout.
The Dirtbombs are one of the many Detroit bands of the 1990s that didn’t become famous when The White Stripes rose. (But don’t call his group a “garage band,” or Collins will twist your head off and eat your children.) With a lineup that includes two bassists and two drummers, Collins pays vocal tribute to the soul greats of his hometown’s past.
The album starts out with a searing little tune called “It’s Not Fun Until They See You Cry,” in which Collins seems to adapt a British accent and sounds almost like a tougher version of The Fall’s Mark E. Smith as he spits the menacing refrain, “Ah, you got what you wanted-uh. ...”
Although “Ever Lovin’ Man” is basically a love song (or at least a plea-for-sex song), it’s one of the most urgent-sounding and desperate tunes on an album steeped in urgency and desperation. It’s there from the first line: “Time is running out, and I can’t wait/I have to say this before it’s too late.” A cool little fuzz-tone guitar hook sounds as if it’s been shoplifted from a spy-movie soundtrack.
There’s a crunching rocker called “I Hear the Sirens” and a masterful cover of Dead Moon’s “Fire in the Western World” (“The red sky’s moaning, and the wind is blowing hard/Better take warning, ’cause this time it’s gone too far”).
In “They Have Us Surrounded,” the music fades in, as if thon for some time. It’s a plodding but intense cacophony that goes on for a few moments before you can detect faint vocals. Someone’s still alive in there! Collins sings in a scared falsetto. It’s hard to understand exactly what he’s saying — except the refrain “They have us surrounded, and there’s no way out.”
One of the most masterful selections here is “Wreck My Flow,” with scatter-bomb lyrics (“Holy roller/despot/car bomb in the parking lot/kid blow/new show/prime-time lead slot”) that might remind you of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” The Temptations’ “Ball of Confusion” or R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” But despite the sociopolitical nature of the words, Collins, ever the put-out hipster, is mostly concerned that “everybody’s tryin’ to wreck my flow.”
But the coolest and craziest song here is “Leopardman at C&A,” which features lyrics by artist Alan Moore, who did a graphic novel of the same name. Ature-shock techno tribalism: “We’ll hunt down television sets and kill them for their skins/We’ll squeeze the juice from cellphones, and we’ll smear it on our faces/While zebra cars and trucks drink from a gasoline oasis/With our necklaces of radio teeth and bar-code based tattoos/We’ll build a tribal fire of sound bites/Cut from central network news.”
The album ends with a song called — what else? — “La Fin du Monde” (The End of the World). Sung in French, it’s ironically the happiest, poppiest tune on the record.
The major misstep on We Have You Surrounded is “Race to the Bottom,” an eight-minute-plus electro-noise collage that mainly seems to serve as filler. But it’s a forgivable sin. All in all, this record is a real joy — in a paranoid, apocalyptic kind of way.
* Something’s Got to Give by The Come n’ Go. Forget the old stereotype about young Europeans only loving bleak, neutered electroSwitzerland between the French-speaking and German-speaking parts, comes this crazy little band that was apparently raised on gunpowder, old Yardbirds 45s, and Oblivians CDs.
The Come n’ Go play nothing but good, back-to-basic guitar stomp, colored occasionally by a wild harmonica. They went all the way to Memphis to make this record. You can almost smell the barbecue.
* Psychedelic Sunrise by The Chesterfield Kings. It would be impossible to count the number of bands that wished they could be The Rolling Stones. In fact, it would be a lot easier to count the ones that didn’t. But Stones envy seems to be extremely apparent in The Chesterfield Kings, a band from upstate New York that has been recording since the late ’70s. Their latest album, released last fall, even has liner notes by ex-Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.
And you can hear ’60s-era Stones in nearly all of the songs on Psychedelic Sunrise. If “Spanish Sun” got much closer to “Paint It Black” itd prompt a cease-and-desist letter from the Stones’ lawyers. Cool sitar part though.
There are other influences, too: The New York Dolls, The Flamin’ Groovies. My favorite number here is “Elevator Ride,” which borrows from The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” as well as Alice Cooper’s “Black Juju” (check that nasty little organ fill). And the end of “Streaks and Flashes” sounds like The Beatles’ “Rain.”
The Chesterfield Kings are probably doomed to be forever known for emulating earlier bands. But somehow they pull it off, putting it all together in a way that almost always sounds fresh.
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