Featuring some of the final studio recordings by iconic L.A. band The Gun Club, In My Room is a fitting farewell that is by turns powerful, expressively moody yet beautiful, playful and even surprising — much like the band's late leader, the mercurially talented Jeffrey Lee Pierce.
Despite its title, the album is not a collection of Pierce’s acoustic bedroom demos. Instead, it’s an electric-based, full-band production by one of the later lineups of the group, recorded in Holland and Belgium between 1991 and 1993. By this point in his career, Pierce had evolved and matured into a more vulnerably personal and contemplative composer — a far cry from the brash and besotted “Elvis from hell” punk persona he embodied on the first two Gun Club albums in the early ’80s, when he bragged about buying “a graveyard of my own” so he could “kill everyone who ever done me wrong.”
Those early recordings — 1981’s Fire of Love and 1982’s Miami — are now considered classic L.A. albums that fuse together the Dionysian mythologies of Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop and Darby Crash with the corny faux-traditionalism and pop hooks of Creedence Clearwater Revival, topped off by the scarifying, blood-curling imprecations of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. At the time, apart from a handful of diehard fans, The Gun Club were routinely reviled in Hollywood, and weren’t really appreciated in their own hometown until after they spent much of the decade in Europe, where they were welcomed by such contemporaries as Nick Cave (who hired Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo for the Bad Seeds) and Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie (who produced parts of the 1987 Gun Club album Mother Juno).
Pierce was one of the first punk rockers to draw directly from blues, country and roots-rock — he virtually invented cowpunk and predated the entire alt-country/No Depression scene by nearly a decade — but his own approach to roots music had shifted dramatically by the time of the sessions for In My Room. Most of these later songs eschew punk speeds in favor of midtempo, classic-rock settings. Pierce’s guitar playing had largely moved away from distorted power chords into cleaner, more free-flowing, Hendrix-style patterns broken up with madly precise solos that simultaneously evoked Stevie Ray Vaughan and Television’s Richard Lloyd.
“I ran home to hear your breath on the telephone,” Pierce confesses on “Shame and Pain,” which revolves around a funky guitar riff and drummer Nick Sanderson’s big, decisive backbeat. The theme of pain continues on “City in Pain,” a bluesy, mesmerizing groove in which Pierce’s world-weary vocals switch from breathy to mournful before he lets loose with quick but deadly stabs of B.B. King–like guitar.
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“L.A. is … where you always feel like dying,” Pierce muses on a bittersweet ode to his hometown, “L.A. Is Always Real,” recorded in 1993, just three years before he died at age 37 while visiting his father in Salt Lake City. Many of the original songs are steeped in a sense of prescient sadness and pre-ordained doom, but that doesn’t keep Pierce, Sanderson and bassist Romi Mori from hammering everything out with an exacting and relentless drive.
“Put the wall back up … I don’t wanna know about 1993 … Bring back the KGB … Your lover at your job has even fooled the psychics,” Pierce grouses during a daftly brilliant litany of insults on the album’s title track, “In My Room,” which shouldn’t be confused with the dreamy Beach Boys pop song. In Pierce’s worldview, even dreams aren’t a place of escape; instead, they’re twisted seamlessly into his daily life, in a distinctively febrile kind of magical realism.
The rest of the record includes cover songs, instrumentals and a couple remakes of Gun Club originals, but nothing feels like filler. The new version of “Sorrow Knows,” which originally appeared on the 1991 Gun Club album Divinity, is clearer and better, with a soaring, chiming tangle of twin guitars by Pierce and Kid Congo during the jazzy rave-up. The remake of country ballad “Mother of Earth” has a similar arrangement to the definitive recording on Miami, but it’s nonetheless a languidly enchanting and dustier version, streaked grandly with Rene Van Barneveld’s weepy lap-steel guitar. Power chords re-emerge briefly on a tantalizing cover of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain,” in which Pierce’s restrained low vocals imbue the surging anthem with its own oddly affecting and melancholic majesty.
The Gun Club's In My Room is out now on Bang! Records. Vinyl will be available on May 12.