The Gun Club and The Flesh Eaters Show Us How Reissues Are Done
Reissues, man. Reissues.
Upon its release in...blabbity-blah blah. In the past couple of years, we've seen so many pointless reissues that the remains of good taste are spinning in their tiny tiny graves. It’s almost as if the current white on white contrast in contemporary music’s race to banality has left people screaming for newer, shinier copies of the stuff they either threw away or left to get flooded in their parents’ basement.
And given the merging of the nostalgia and histrionics industries into one giant nostalgionics industry, we've gotta hear about every single one of them from a dozen smarmy schmaltz-bloggers. "Four Tet's Rounds was playing in my dorm when we invaded Iraq and it changed my life because..." Yawn.
This year's 20th anniversary reissue of Soundgarden’s Superunknown? The album was originally recorded on modern recording equipment in the best studios money could buy and shipped to every house with a suburban zip code. Meaning there's absolutely nothing to add and few new audiences to reach. Bright Eyes' hilarious 2012 "ten year reissue" of their mopefest Fevers and Mirrors? An additional decade of distance from its release isn't going to polish any of those shitty tears.
In all that mess though, the gods of dirty, sweaty L.A. post-punk are giving us some meaningful reissues (thanks be unto them). Last week, two crucial servings of definitive L.A. post-punk, The Flesheaters' A Minute to Pray a Second to Die and The Gun Club's Fire of Love, got reheated and sent out to the masses once again. Thanks to San Francisco's archival label, Superior Viaduct, we get to know the best thing about both records: the older we get, the more they stay the same fabulous age. Oh, and now they're actually available for more people to listen to.
In case you've forgotten or were never aware, The Flesh Eaters were (and occasionally still are) a collection of L.A. punk heavyweights led by Slash fanzine scribe and horror fanatic, "Chris D" Desjardins. Their second release, A Minute to Pray a Second to Die, came out in 1981 at the beginning of Reagan's ascendancy. Using the fiercest musicians of that scene — Dave Alvin (of The Blasters) on guitar, John Doe (from X) on bass, and Steve Berlin (of Los Lobos) on sax, with percussion double-threat Bill Batemen (also of The Blasters) and DJ Bonebrake (also from X) — they kicked off that bummer of a decade with ferocity and artistry. But all smart-like.
This isn't a kind-of-boring, standard issue, let's-yell-about-stuff kind of rage — it's an informed and unique version thereof. It's a circus sideshow and bearded-lady peepshow of punky American Gothic that ought to be the main act. From tribal percussives, to momentary wild jazz freak-outs, the record set a stage for decades of innovation and swaggy experiments in off-the-beaten-path music. As it was recorded in one night by lunatics, an appropriately light-handed and deft remaster makes for a worthy piece of vinyl or a CD, if you're into that sort of thing.
Also a 1981 baby, Fire of Love perfectly demonstrates the chops of an equally brilliant and equally off-kilter Jeffrey Lee Pierce-fronted Gun Club. Kids looking to fill a hole left by the just-disbanded Germs found something else entirely. They got a smoggy, early '80s L.A. tent revival. They got a jazzy delta-blues show just being overrun by packs of '60s-garage-infected dogs. It doesn't sound like the '80s. It really doesn't sound like punk. With the gift of a slight remaster, in fact, the record sounds like it might have been recorded in Echo Park last week by savvy musicians fucking around the right way.
In his liner notes, Chris D (who also produced it), explains, "Several people have told me that record made them want to start a band and come to L.A. When you hear Jeffrey Lee singing, screaming, shouting, yodeling ... you don’t hear Jeffrey alone — you hear a whole cast of characters venting their bursting spleen: teenage studs, racist bounty hunters, demented preachers, grave robbers, junkie ghosts, Mardi Gras revelers gone amok." That's the kind of timeless stuff that makes it worth putting in new packages.
Y'see, reissues don't have to be pointless high school reunions or sad stabs at maintaining relevancy. They can introduce a great work of music in a format it has never been on with a spitshine, a smile, and a check-this-out mindset. It should be more of a, "Now you can listen to this record without it sounding like it's coming from inside a wind-tunnel!" and not a smirking and self-winking, "Shit, we’re old, guys! Who remembers the '80s, huh?"
Which is exactly why Superior Viaduct has outdone itself, giving us something meaningful without getting all mopey about it. Post-punk. Fucking. Rock. To give to your kids. Or "the Kids."
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