THE BELLRAYSGrand Fury (Vital GestureUppercut)
Okay, let‘s see a show of hands: How many of you have, at one time or another, bought a record by some group touted as ”the new MC5,“ only to find that the disc in question was merely a soggy collection of hard-rock cliches hyped by some overexcitable music critic? Guess that’s why you didn‘t bother to pick up Let It Blast, the 1998 CD debut by L.A.’s BellRays. All those ”Tina Turner fronting the MC5“ raves must‘ve put you right off.
Well, babies, that was your loss. A viscerally charged, speaker-shredding rock experience, Let It Blast was pretty much all it was cracked up to be. Grand Fury, the BellRays’ fittingly titled follow-up, is even better; the songs are stronger, the playing tighter, the dynamics deeper, the heaviness heavier. The TinaMC5 description is still useful, although the sonic onslaught of guitarist Tony Fate, bassist Bob Vennum and drummer Ray Chin is more reminiscent of Led Zeppelin circa 1969, when whiplash rockers like ”Communication Breakdown“ and ”Bring It on Home“ were the order of the day. And whereas the MC5 espoused a broad Us–vs.–The Man agenda, tracks like ”Too Many Houses in Here,“ ”They Glued Your Head On Upside-Down“ and ”Stupid Fuckin‘ People“ (undoubtedly the feel-good hit of the holiday season) convey a palpable willingness to duke it out in the trenches on a first-come, first-served basis. Front woman Lisa Kekaula has the earthshaking pipes of an old-time gospel star, but here she sounds like she’d rather rip your head off and howl down your throat than preach the virtues of brotherly love. The notable exception is ”Have a Little Faith in Me,“ a soulful pledge of love in a time of cosmic upheaval that gives a brief-but-telling glimpse of the tender heart that beats beneath the battle armor.
If there‘s a downside to this otherwise excellent slab, it’s the knowledge that the BellRays‘ lineup has changed significantly since Grand Fury was recorded. Chin, who left the band to pursue his MBA, was replaced for a time by Toothpick Elbow’s Todd Westover, but both Westover and Fate have now split to pursue other projects. As such, Grand Fury serves as more of a snapshot of where the BellRays have been than a signpost to where they‘re going. But as snapshots go, it’s an absolute mutha, and only a pitiable fool would bet against them topping it the next time around.