Pop Life

Reverberations: Clarences, Flamin’ Groovies, Scott Deluxe Drake and Liverpool Five

Power-pop fans take note: Next Monday, you can catch Oakland band The Clarences live on the Internet at 11:30 p.m. CST. I hear drinks will be dirt cheap.

This week brought another reissue of Flamin’ Groovies’ 1970 sophomore album, Flamingo, which showed the Groovies stripping down and proving that the same band who soared on Supersnazz could get downright demo-quality filthy with “Gonna Rock Tonight” and “Second Cousin.” This was a short year before the Groovies released the seminal Teenage Head, completing an three-album inaugural run since matched by few and, thus far, fully appreciated by about as many.

Other discs to check out this week:

Scott “Deluxe” Drake, Grand Mal (Rankoutsider)

Scott “Deluxe” Drake, front-man for The Humpers, has carved out a singular, dignified career for himself by jumping in the trenches and making consistent rock music pretty much devoid of bullshit.

Grand Mal, Drake’s second proper solo effort, finds him with Humpers / 8-Foot Tender compadre / axe-slinger Jeff Fieldhouse. The title track would seem grandiose in other hands, though Drake’s delivery turns it into something akin to Tom Wait’s “Step Right Up,” were the consumer-angst supplanted by existential concerns and informed by brevity and punk rock, while a track like “Cadiz Arms” is a not only a visceral, personally affecting piece of music but a top-volume anthem along Social Distortion lines.

Drake’s authenticity is the selling point of these songs; you’d be hard pressed to find someone who could snarl the way he does on “You Can’t Win,” where you first detect a feigned snottiness later revealed to be a sort of wisdom that is rare in this sort of music.

“Shanghai Cabaret” is a fist-pumping sing-along tune that’ll recalibrate your mojo in the event that you took the first two tracks too seriously, giving rise to a thrown-beer-can vibe that runs through the growling beast of an instrumental that is “Cocktails!” Perhaps the commercially weakest attribute of “Grand Mal” is its neglect to state a purpose: The record rocks and toys with both excess and restraint, but accepting it as a worthwhile document entails the ability to grasp emotional ambiguity. Summary: The songs are mature, and the fact is that some people aren’t too crazy about mature punk rock. Hopefully, those people can relax long enough to embrace good punk rock, since the only real weak spot on the record is “Blood Like Wine,” which carries a big stick but seems to try to hard for its own good.

Grand Mal is not particularly fun, nor is it easy, but it’s rewarding. It’s also something of a headphone record, and not because of texture. This is just one that has to be played loud, or you’ll miss the point of the whole 35 minutes and 12 ass-kicker tunes that, like Drake, show up and do their job without overstaying their welcome or making a garish scene.

The Liverpool Five, The Best of the Liverpool Five (Sundazed)

The Liverpool Five went far beyond trying to appropriate an “American” sound, emigrated to the United States in the mid-60s after a stint in Germany and successful touring of Japan. They recorded two albums and a handful of singles, all of which were critically acclaimed and completely ricocheted off the charts. While not particularly influential or even essential, the Five made music that deserves far better than obscurity, something this new collection by Sundazed handily manages.

“Everything’s Al’Right” is driven by a fuzzy guitar riff that places you right in the midst of the swingin’ 60s, while “That’s What I Want” evokes “Love Me Do” – these two tracks served as the top and flipside of the band’s first ever release, and in their way, they cover a vast majority of the band’s sonic ambition. The first is an aggressive, calculated pop song, and the second is a seemingly standard mid-60s song about love and bitterness, bound by a rigid adherence to vocal harmonies and a guitar melody. One is a genuine stomper; the other feels like a good band playing it safe and serves as a painful example of a promising band playing itself straight into obscurity.

The cover of Dylan’s “If You’ve Gotta Go, Go Now” is not bad, but it’s a stretch and points toward the band’s desire to naturalize themselves and their music. It’s tough to go from the riffing of “Everything’s Al’Right” to “Too Far Out,” a Bringing It All Back Home Again styled romp that misses the mark. It becomes clear that this band’s biggest mistake may have been trying to channel their influences rather than sublimate them.

“Just a Little Bit” is pure, pummeling beat and only goes wrong during the times when the band tries to let loose; solid rhythms, reverb-drenched guitars, throbbing bass and tight vocal harmonizing are their forte, and when a scream drops into the mix, it seems as though the music itself ducks a little, lending the impression that the band wasn’t really into it. Though this becomes increasingly difficult to believe, especially considering a track like “Heart,” which has a simply infectious guitar riff. The song itself is hypnotic, and the run that finishes it goes in filthy fast and comes out clean, giving us one of the best glimpses at what may have been the actual identity of the band.

Ultimately, no one will find anything indispensable or epoch-making in the recordings of the Liverpool Five, but in no way does that mean this band should be slighted: the music they made was good, at times great, and succeeded in reaching for the sort of mass appeal it was mere steps from grasping. There were (and are) many, many bands who got (and get) further on fewer accomplishments. – Chris Henderson

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