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January 10, 2007

The Dirtbombs, Pt. 2: The Albums

Filed under: Artist Profile,Music — ihggy @ 7:11 pm

So, about these Dirtbombs albums. This Dirtbombs were, according to Mick Collins, never even supposed to be an “albums band”. They were gonna make fifteen 7″ singles, disband, and be relegated to relative obscurity. Albums would force the band to stay in one place too long for Collins’ liking, I guess, so they were never a part of the original plan. However, presumably due to their amazing singles and live performances, the band grew in popularity, so much so that there were expectations that the band make an full-length. At a certain point I think it’s impossible for a band not to give in to such expectations, regardless of whatever principles upon which its members might have originally based its existence. And so we have Dirtbombs albums.

Collins has said that when he finally decided to make full-length record with the Dirtbombs, that he wanted to strictly adhere to the “one complete idea maintained for the course of the entire LP” thing, and so the Dirtbombs are “a punk band on the first one, a soul band on the second one, and a pop band on the third.” The fourth one might be a pop-psych combination. This is true, but the whole catalog is filtered through that loud, dirty Detroit “garage” sound for which the band is best known.

The first LP, Horndog Fest, released in 1998 on In the Red Records, is pretty obnoxious. All kinds of snot pours from these songs, they are fast, loud, as dirty as the Bombs can make them. Even the cover is raunchy as all. Take this tune, “Vixens In Space”. This is ear-punishing blue punk-noise, which, despite the band’s two drummers and two bassists, has no low-end at all. Most of what you hear is unintelligible guitar feedback. Naturally, it rocks in a really wonderful way. But it’s obnoxious, rude as fuck. No class at all. To an extent, the rest of the album proceeds similarly.

Somewhere between 1998 and 2001, when their second album Ultraglide in Black was released, the band developed a real sense of style, a sense of propriety (at least when compared to other garage punks). The record is mostly covers of funk and soul classics (by artists like Smokey Robinson, George Clinton, Lou Rawls). The song selection is the height of cool, the Horndoggy edge is severely diminished, the rhythm section asserts its essential presence, the band tightens up, and the result is a soul-punk classic. The band’s cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Underdog” is a perfect example of the Ultraglide idea. It’s got all the energy and anger of the original, and you can tell that the band really loves the song. It rocks as hard as anything on Horndog, but it does it with a hell of a lot more class.

2003’s Dangerous Magical Noise, the band’s so-called “pop” album, is somewhat harder to pin down. The Dirtbombs throw in elements from all over the place (bits of glam, power-pop, 70’s AM pop, and more), thus the sound on this record is not as uniform as on the others. Because of the variety, and because the songwriting is as consitently high-quality as ever, this is probably the band’s most approachable record. It’s a little cleaner than the first two, it’s got a generally friendlier mix, but it’s still a Dirtbombs record, so it still pumps out pure excitement with every note. “F.I.D.O.”, the record’s closer, is busting with sunshine-y good feelings and boasts a groove you just want to drive to forever. It’s a pop song, for sure, a brilliant, tight, catchy pop song.

Their side of the split LP with King Khan and His Shrines, called Billiards at Nine Thirty (released on Sounds of Subterannia in 2005), bears resemblance to a tightened-up, cleaner version of the more garage-psych “experimental” tracks on the If You Don’t Already Have a Look singles compilation. It’s a really cool record, but because it only has six of their songs, I don’t think I can count it among the band’s proper full-lengths. I don’t think the band meant it to be taken as seriously as their real LP’s or the singles, and for this reason it seems to lack the urgency and energy of their other releases.

The Dirtbombs don’t apparently have any new releases in the near future, but according to Mick Collins, the next record is gonna be their “bubblegum pop” album. Oh man, it should be awesome.

Buy Dirtbombs records from In the Red.

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