Friday, October 04, 2013

X - Unclogged

Right from the start, there was always something special about X. The mix of styles and talent in this band made them stand out, even at a time when "punk rock" could include bands ranging from the Zeros, Black Flag, The Blasters, Suburban Lawns, the Nuns, the Screamers and lots more. Drummer DJ Bonebrake was - and still is - one of the best, most creative, pounders around, Billy Zoom was rockabilly stylish and handsome with his silver sparkle Gretsch guitar, John Doe was also one that the ladies would swoon over while he played interesting runs on his bass and sang with one of the better voices in the scene, which was countered by Exene's witchy/bag lady/punk styling and wild wailing. Besides all of this, there were the songs, that were real songs, with poetic lyrics, melodies and creative progressions. There were some changes throughout the years, stylistically and in the personnel, but the quality was always there.

This quality really stands out on this record, where they strip the songs down to - mostly - acoustic numbers, showing that the tunes did not rely on power and flash. At this point, guitar duties were handled by Tony Gilkyson, who added a new dimension to their sound. This set begins with one of my favorite tunes of theirs, "White Girl", which shows right away that their songs weren't all power chords and high energy - this sweet melody shines through and John and Exenes' off-kilter harmonies work, even in this quieter setting. DJ's multi-layer talents appear when he pulls out a marimba for "Because I Do" and John's country leanings show up in "Lying in the Road", with Gilkyson adding some nice electric lead bits. The marimba is particularly, hauntingly effective on "Unheard Music", where it is the predominant instrument (along with some quiet acoustic guitar), changing the entire feel of this number - in a very cool way. "I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts" is not as thoroughly changed, but works wonderfully in this quieter setting, highlighting the vocal interaction between John and Exene. I always thought that Tony brought with him more of a country influence (a slight difference from Zoom's rockabilly slant) and here "Burning House of Love" is treated like an early Johnny Cash song, with his electric leads counterpointing with the melody and acoustic guitar.

Although "The Stage" is not one of their classic tunes, it also works well in this manner, but this is followed by one of their strongest melodies in "See How We Are" - beautifully powerful and this version, highlighting the lyrics and vocals, is especially terrific. They lighten the mood with "True Love" followed by the cool-country of "Have-Nots" before moving into another radical re-working for "The World's a Mess, It's In My Kiss", making it almost unrecognizable, but still good. Again, "I See Red" is not one of their best, but it does lend itself to this treatment and Gilkyson gets to bust out some fine riffs in "What's Wrong With Me", the "official" closer, though there is a short, hidden track of marimba music.

Not for purist punk-rockers, but personally, I love these re-workings and think that they make the songs even more personal and heartfelt.