Friday, January 23, 2009


The Gruesomes

Ricochet Sound Recordings
US distribution through Get Hip Records Distribution and Canada/US through Scratch Records

Great rock 'n' roll is not what sells the most but what endures, but garage rock has a unique spin on this notion: Not only does the music endure, but reinvents itself every few years. The bands that spearhead or participate in that reinvention cause new listeners to go backwards and find their influences. As a result, older bands have periodic resurgences. Therefore, it's no surprise that The Gruesomes had a lot of recognition in 2008 that culminated in last month's reissue of 1987's Gruesomania, which not only has the original 14 tracks, but an extra 6 tracks from their Unchained EP.

Although technically siblings, The Gruesomes can be considered to be the love child of a glorious mating between The Ramones and The Fleshtones as a bunch of young punks with an affinity for '60s garage rock. Gruesomania is fuzztacular with the opening "Way Down Below" and the satisfaction of "Ain't Got Nothin', which are "dirty" sounding tunes with two guitars buzzing and Bobby Beaton's signature growl. There's also the mod inspired "Glad For You" with a tough backbeat and clean chords, while the cover "Leave My Kitten Alone" is a bit of a faster tempo with some nice garage guitar licks, but somewhere in all of this, one figures out that The Gruesomes manage to retain their own sonics and snottiness.

Given their "trashy" affinity, the surf sounds of "Whirlpool" is a great surprise. It's really tight, has lead guitar Gerry Alvarez playing a tremolo with a strong echo and some nice reverb, but the ending stereo sound of water is...let's just say The Gruesomes! Other highlights include a slow tempo number "I Can Tell" that reaches into some basic r & b, or the "shaking" cool rhythm and harmonica of "Buzz Off." As if a fitting education, one also finally realises the blunt, scratchy anunciation of r's in French makes those who sing it perfect candidates for garage rock on "Je Cherche", which packs a bit more of a punch than the English translation "I'm Searching", which is included as one of the bonus tracks. One of the endearing qualities of The Gruesomes lies in Beaton's self depreciating humor highlighted on "Why Me": "I ask girls out, but the say no deal, It doesn't really matter 'cause they always say no, I can't take 'em out 'cause I got no dough." Just when one has The Gruesomes figured out, one's given a good blast of punk, Detroit garage guitar solos, and enough howls on "Time's Gonna Come" to thank their lucky Stooges.

The Gruesomes are musically top notch and play their instruments well, which precludes their sound of being low fidelity. Thus, Gruesomania is appropriately in stereo and the mixings are successful overall. One can especially hear the advantage on the familiar story line of "Outta My Mind" and the great guitar fuzz of the ghoulishly cool "You Said Yeah", and the trashed out, bluesy tremolo on "Heartfull Of Pain". The extra tracks on the reissue are all solid covers, including a loud and deep cover of the Bobby Sharp r & b standard "Unchain My Heart", the deep, Rolling Stones bent Master's Apprentices "Buried and Dead", "Santa Claus" by The Sonics, although the latter didn't originally ask for Stretch Armstrong and Gruesomania, and "Got Love If You Want It" by Louisiana swamp blues legend James Moore (aka Slim Harpo).

The Gruesomes overall and specifically, Gruesomania capture the essence of garage rock: When one hears great garage rock for the first time, no matter if it was done today or many years ago, it sounds steeped in the old but still new. Likewise, one always can listen to the older end of the spectrum, but that music somehow sounds new and never dated. As a result, garage rock stands alone compared to all other rock genres because it's a continuum. Gruesomania is forever old in its influences and always new to the ears, no matter how many times one has heard it.

Way Down Below

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