Tuesday, January 13, 2009

X - Los Angeles

X was probably the only punk band to come out of the LA punk scene that achieved any commercial viability as well as critical and fan-based acclaim (not counting roots-rockers like Los Lobos and the Blasters, even though they are quite inter-related). While punkers may remember the Germs and the Circle Jerks (among others), any members of those bands are still playing clubs while X can still fill large halls more than 2 decades after their start.

Their initial album is simply titled Los Angeles and rightfully so, as it is a document of the city and the scene at the time. I think that one reason that the band was embraced by so many Angelenos is that they accurately portrayed the life that many of us led, especially those involved in the burgeoning new music scene. Anyone who did not live this life could not relate to the lyrics at all and even to the sound to some extent.

Pure punk fury is embodied in “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not”. Zoom & DJ Bonebrake jump out with their Ramones/Sex Pistols/Rockabilly riffs and Exene comes in practically shrieking in her semi-off-key way only to have Doe add his harmonies somehow. This paves the way for everything that is to come from the band.

There was a little controversy about “Johny Hit and Run Pauline” seeing as the lyrics reference a serial rapist. Obviously, singer John Doe is not advocating this, but wrote it as a story, but it was a little strange. Regardless, this is a powerful and dark blast and Billy’s rockabilly riffs seem oddly out of place amongst the carnage.

Taking a Doors classic and making it your own wasn’t the easiest thing to do, but X manages this with “Soul Kitchen”. A kinda unusual choice, but it worked for them and with Zoom’s playing and no keyboard (even though Ray Manzarek produced the record and plays on other tunes), the sound is quite different but quite rockin’!

Changing gears for “Nausea”, Ray is brought it for coloring with his unique organ tone, as they slow down for this sick-sounding power chord monster. Not slow by anyone else’s standards, but less frantic than the previous tunes. They rev up again for the wild “Sugarlight”, ironically about drugs (though Doe has at times claimed it was about gay cruisers), and the last thing they sound like here are stoners! This is absolutely manic and great!

Of course, the title cut is the classic from this album and one that everyone has heard at some point or another. Doe sings his semi-surreal tales of friends and acquaintances with Exene harmonizing and the band churning behind him. Perfect chopping chord accents highlight the throbbing beat. Deservedly one of their best known tunes.

Manzarek is back with the crazed “Sex & Dying in High Society”, which is even faster and wilder than the previous punkers. The keyboard really adds a neat dimension without detracting from the power in any way – the guitars are still predominant at all times.

The slow down for the pounding “The Unheard Music”, talking about how the new sounds were marginalized: “some smooth chords on the car radio/no hard chords on the car radio”. They use almost a Native American beat on this one to superb effect.

Ending the album was another X classic, “The World’s a Mess, It’s in My Kiss”, again featuring Ray on keys and this time giving him more of a role and even a terrific solo. This is more perfect X melodic rockabilly punk and the final Doe/Exene vocal tradeoff is a album highlight. What a record!

All of the X CD reissues come packed with bonus tracks and this is no exception. Starting with a demo of “I’m Coming Over” with a cute almost whispered intro by Exene before blasting into the song, essentially unchanged from the Wild Gift version. There’s an early rough mix of the sublime “Adult Books”, with the backing track remaining pretty much the same, but with some different vocal lines. “Delta 88” is practically hard core, to the point of the singing being almost unintelligible. There is a rehearsal take on Doe’s “Cyrano de Berger’s Back”, which didn’t officially appear until much later (See How We Are), though it sounds like they had it all worked out already. This closes with the Dangerhouse version of “Los Angeles”.

For anyone who wants to know what the best Los Angeles punk sounded like, here you go! Definitely among the best of the second wave of American punk rock records!