Photo by Moratt Lee

Grave Disorder (Nitro)

The Damned, one of Britain’s earliest and finest punk bands, have spent most of the last 15 or so years avoiding the musical brand of “anarchy, chaos and destruction” that won them profound international infamy. Following a frustrating recorded output as poor as most of their contemporaries’ equally drooping efforts, this time around founders Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian bare their punk rock fangs and hammer out a set of songs intended to generate outrage and excitement worthy of the Damned’s historic pedigree. With a lucky 13 tracks, about half of which are full-throttle rockers, Grave Disorder doesn’t quite live up to the “better than Machine Gun Etiquette” ballyhoo, but there are more than enough hyperactive thrillers to qualify this as the best thing they’ve done in ages.

Still loaded down with a few of the goth groaners that Vanian’s so enamored of, to the jaded purist this new disc will doubtless seem merely a nice try. But for fans able to muster a willing suspension of disbelief, the aggression and glee it’s served up with are quite appealing, particularly on “Lookin’ for Action,” as solid a slab of cynical middle-aged punk-rock celebration as one could hope for. “Neverland” is a sneering stab at Michael Jackson, and “Would You Be So Hot” (“ . . . if you weren’t dead”) pokes belated but welcome needles into the overinflated reverence accorded the dead Beatle. “Amen” takes heretical venom far beyond 1979’s Vatican-trashing “Anti-Pope” (maybe that’s because it’s nearly eight minutes long). Opener “Democracy” kicks, but, shit, politics from the Damned?

Somewhat over-easy targets these be, and the same goes for “W”; a gobbet of contemporary outrage over the recent U.S. election, it seems strained coming from Brits. In fact the entire album, loaded with samples from Yank televangelists and Dark Shadows, has an oddly Americanized streak to it; this perhaps can be attributed to our own Patricia Morrison, née Bag, who is now, of course, Mrs. Vanian. As the subject of “She,” one of the more creative rave-ups herein, Morrison clearly exerts no small influence on the proceedings. While that bodes well for an ongoing flow of evolutionary juice, it also lends a schizoid air of inconsistency. But if this means less garbage like “Eloise” and the egregious moaner “Shadow of Love,” then we can all be happy.

Photo by Adrian Boot

The Essential Radio Birdman, 1974–1978
(Sub Pop)

There’s an unholy similarity between the bands of Detroit, Michigan, and those of Australia. Amazing, given that the geography and climate of the two locales couldn’t be more different. But there’s a strain common to both — where the Stooges and AC/DC meet, where the Saints and the MC5 merge, or the Romantics and Hoodoo Gurus, Jimmy Barnes and Mitch Ryder collide — and the idea is to get the people up and moving without too much thought involved. Just a driving beat and a dash of melody, generally straight-ahead, no-bullshit rock & roll.

Radio Birdman is and was a mixture of both places, with Michigan’s Deniz Tek as leader and guitar hero in the Australia-based six piece. This 22-song collection, the bulk of which is culled from R.B.’s 1977 Radios Appear, is pure, pre-punkish rock & roll that owes most of its inspiration to the Stooges, surf bands, garage psych and a bit of the pub-rock groove that swept the U.K. before the Pistols arrived. Tek was profoundly influenced by Mitch Ryder/Rockets guitarist Jim McCarty; singer Rob Younger declaims in a flat Iggy thing; and the band chugs along unmercifully over short-’n’-sweet gems like “What Gives” and the perfect “Hand of Law” like the semi-pro, enthusiastic crew they were. They quote the theme from Hawaii Five-O, they pay homage to Moon Pies and the Eisenhower Freeway, they’re in love with America even though they’re 9,000 miles away from it, indicating that it was Tek’s band all the way and his homesickness was the prime mover in their sound. Yet R.B.’s instrumental whiz was actually its keyboardist, Pip Hoyle, who gave the Birdmen a musical link back to the ’50s and tone coloring that made them weirder than most.

Fans of the Vibrators, Dr. Feelgood, Lazy Cowgirls, Cosmic Psychos, the Dolls or 13th Floor Elevators should never be without this collection, another in a long — and overlooked — line of discs from that odd subgenre, the real white-boy-blues-at-double-speed-plus-trash-culture-homage-atop-said-careening-mess. Radio B was a grand, crap-free orchestra that probably had the rafters ringing down in Oz every time they turned on their amps. Doesn’t sound at all dated, either — and how many reissues can make that claim, eh? (Johnny Angel)

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