November 20, 2006

The Dirtbombs Pt. 1: Singles

Filed under: Artist Profile,Music — ihggy @ 12:45 pm

The “garage rock revival” hype that happened earlier this decade with bands like The Strokes, The Hives, The Vines, and The White Stripes was basically a whole bunch of bullshit. Sure the bands were mostly pretty good, but they weren’t saving rock and roll or anything. Bands have been playing punk-fueled garage since the original wave in the mid-sixties. In the seventies bands like the the Stooges, the Dictators, the Rubber City Rebels, X, and especially Aussie bands like Radio Birdman, the Saints, and the Scientists carried on the tradition of combining classic Berry-style r&b and Nuggets-punk’s raw energy. Groups like Gun Club, The Gories, The Fuzztones, Wild Billy Childish’s The Milkshakes/Thee Headcoats, and, to an extent, Minutemen and the Meat Puppets brought the sound into the eighties and nineties.

Detroit’s The Dirtbombs, formed in the mid-nineties as one of many projects featuring ex-Gories frontman Mick Collins, were one of the major forerunners of the latest wave. They are quite possibly the hardest-rocking garage punk band I’ve heard. Their line-up, which features two drummers, two bassists (one playing clean and one playing hell fuzz), and Collins on guitar and vocals, is an unstoppable rhythmic force, and makes for an extremely physically exacting and exciting live show. Collins’s unique mix of rock and roll, punk, and soul gives the band a sound that is more visionary than revivalist (Mick Collins himself has claimed the Dirtbombs are not a garage rock band. I understand what he means, but I’ll continue to make the comparison.)

If You Don't Already Have a Look

The Dirtbombs began as a singles band that intended to release around 15 7″ EP’s and disband. In the liner notes to their 2005 singles comp If You Don’t Already Have a Look, Collins writes that “all of the best albums are compilations, anyway. Why? Because they’re made up of SINGLES, duh.” I think that he’s right. If You Don’t Already, a 52-song double disc set (one of originals, one of covers), is the band’s strongest record. It’s a sprawling affair, capturing the band in several different stylistic phases over the past ten years. “I’m Saving Myself for Nichelle Nichols (No. 3)” is pure punk, “High Octane Salvation” is psychobilly blues, “Encrypted” has a 90s lo-fi indie sound, and “They Hate Us in Scandanavia” is about as close to pop as the band gets.

If I had to pick one song to represent the band’s set on the originals disc, though, it would be “The Sharpest Claws.” This song features everything that makes the band great — guitar noise, fuzz, huge fucking bass riffs, ENERGY, and skilled concise songwriting — and turns it up full-blast. You cannot play this song loud enough. There is no way you hear this song and don’t immediately have the desire to listen to it again.

The covers disc is similarly all over the place, which makes sense considering the D-Bombs cover everyone from Lou Rawls to the Romantics to the Bee Gees. My favorite on this disc is their version of ESG’s “My Love for You.” It rocks as hard as any Dirtbombs tune, and retains the upbeat minimalist appeal of the original version. It’s easy to tell that the band has fun playing it.

It’s really exciting that the Dirtbombs are capable of creating such a diverse record out of the standard garage punk formula. Rock and roll isn’t dead, it never was dead, and it’s never gonna need to be saved as long as we have bands like this pushing the limits of the genre while sticking steadfast to its most important elements.

Official Dirtbombs site.
“The Sharpest Claws” on Youtube.
Order Dirtbombs records from In the Red.

(I’ll be back later this week or maybe next week to talk about the way the Dirtbombs approach albums.)

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