Wednesday, January 07, 2009

X – Wild Gift

I’ve been a fan of X since their early days in the LA punk scene. I was lucky enough to see them in small clubs before they hit big and even saw them at the Whiskey-a-go-go with Ray Manzarek sitting in on keyboards as they celebrated the release of Los Angeles. I just never got around to picking up any of their CDs until now. The releases are well done with excellent booklets and a number of bonus tracks.

Wild Gift was their second release and is maybe a little more polished than their debut, but that would come from being more comfortable in a studio. “The Once Over Twice” comes blasting out of the speakers with Billy Zoom’s silver Gretch imitating the Ramones doing rockabilly as Exene intones in her slightly out-of-tune voice that somehow bassist John Doe harmonizes with amazingly well. This is vintage X!

Pure punk rock is “We’re Desperate” – powerhouse tales of their early punk days before they became a little more comfortable. Most of us rockers living in LA could relate to these lyrics – especially “last night everything broke!” We were living on the edge – some more so than others – and just hanging on so that we could go crazy in the clubs at night.

The band mellows out a bit for “Adult Books”, a very melodic and super catchy dark bit of story telling. The ending charges up into a slightly Richard Hell style. Great tune! A power chord riff punctuates “Universal Corner” with Doe singing lead and Exene providing some nice counterpoint. They were amazing at creating memorable melodies without sacrificing any intensity. Everything truly sounds bleak, but still pulls you in and somehow gets you singing along!

Exene’s “I’m Coming Over” is a bit of a hard-core throwaway. Nothing particularly special in the music or the lyrics, but an energetic piece of thrash. Zoom’s semi-rockabilly riff opens “It’s Who You Know”, another of Doe’s noir stories of LA superficiality. A semi-autobiographical song is “In This House That I Call Home”, telling of the house that Doe & Exene shared that became a punk rock crash pad. Many could relate to this also, especially the cool line “stumble over tombstone shoes”, when finding their living room filled with sleeping strangers.

Somewhat reminiscent of the song “Los Angeles” in structure is “Some Other Time”, though it is not nearly as strong as the earlier tune. But then comes the classic of this record, “White Girl”. Interestingly, John says that this was written about Lorna Doom of the Germs, and he claims it is a song of interest, though I always took it as the writer being annoyed with the girl. In any case, this is an incredible tune – sorta 60’s in sound and feel, but again, darker and with an amazing use of dynamics and melody. Incredible sing-along chorus and perfect playing and interaction from the whole band.

Back to their punk-rockabilly roots for “Beyond and Back” which again harkens to the first album, which is logical as I’m sure many of these tunes were written around the same time. This is probably one of my fave tunes that Exene sings – this vehicle really works for her – she is allowed to practically shriek at times and not worry too much about tunefulness. More inconsequential to my ears is “Back 2 the Base”, a funny telling of an encounter Doe has on a LA city bus (which I could certainly relate to at the time!) but musically not super interesting.

Relationship introspection is at the heart of “When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch”, another strong rocker with a chorus that includes “I hate you, I love you” – that many could understand far too well!

The vinyl ended with another semi-throw-away, “Year 1”. Again, not bad and some good rockabilly licks from Zoom, but nothing exceedingly special.

The CD has a number of bonus tracks, though, starting with a live take of “Beyond and Back” recorded at the legendary Club 88 and included on the Decline of Western Civilization soundtrack. There is a demo of “Blue Spark”, the single version of “We’re Desperate”, a live “Back 2 the Base”, a rehearsal of a song called “Heater” which sounds to me like an early version of “We’re Desperate”, the single mix of “White Girl” (which I always liked) and an unreleased single mix of “The Once Over Twice”.

Jam packed with extras and a good mastering job overall, this is a punk rock classic that everyone should own!