Cooking Vinyl Records are giving a vinyl release to a selection of recordings by Los Angeles post punk pioneers The Gun Club; 1982 studio album ”Miami”, 1983’s live EP ”Death Party” and 1984 studio album ”The Las Vegas Story”.
I cannot speak to the quality of vinyl pressings as I have been given digital versions of these albums, although these do seem to serve the band and reviewer just fine. That in itself may be somewhat of a surprise to aficionados of the band as “Miami” in particular was criticised on its original release for its alleged overly clean production by Blondie‘s Chris Stein. I haven’t heard their début or the original recordings, but this sounds fine to me, in fact a lot of it sounds like it was recorded live and hardly suffers from a lack of power. All three releases come with extra digital download cards, absolutely packed with bonus content taken from live shows, which will no doubt delight all The Gun Club fans.
1982’s ”Miami”, the first of these albums, is perhaps the one most in need rescuing from it’s position of critical derision for it’s perceived studio-based shortcomings. It is here that I shall focus TINAS’ attentions, although I will touch on ”Death Party (Live)” and ”The Las Vegas Story” too.
The band, whose music is often described as ‘cowpunk’, as they mixed country and blues with punk, were at the height of their powers in the early 80’s. That’s just before my time, but I can certainly hear their influence on many of the bands who came after them and were stalwarts of my burgeoning record collection in the late 80’s. Central to all this are the vocals of front man and sometime guitarist, the late Jeffrey Lee Pierce, whose impassioned and vulnerable voice dominates. Occasionally veering off key altogether, he frequently sounds at breaking point and you cannot ever accuse him of sounding like he doesn’t means it.
”Miami”s memorable opener, ‘Carry Home’ does everything they do best, a heartfelt performance of a yearning lyric, and flashes of steel guitar glint amongst the pounding beat. The following ‘Like Calling Up Thunder’ is a punkabilly desert storm which perhaps more than any other track here sets a template for noise-merchants to break out of the limitations of punk.
It’s not long before you start counting all the bands they seem to have presaged, if not directly influenced – ‘Brother and Sister’ finds Pierce using the bottom end of his range to produce a psychobilly pot boiler which manages to invent both The Mission and At The Drive-in simultaneously. On ‘A Devil In The Woods’ Pierce almost yodels the weird American gothic tale over atonal post punk guitar.
There is a brilliant version of Creedence‘s ‘Run Through The Jungle’, which loses some of its’ poise, but gains a ragged Crazy Horse-esque glory. The bass prowls brilliantly while the guitars of Ward Dotson rip and scratch, seeming to run semi-improvised.
More unexpected, but fantastic lap steel can be heard on ‘Texan Serenade’ which is like a Raymond Carver short story set to country flecked, hard jangle.
‘Watermelon Man’ sees the band invent Hawaiian death punk and make it seem like a brilliant idea whose time is well overdue. It’s a great example of the bands ability and vision to take whatever sounds they want and make them their own. It calls to mind Pixies twisted Hispanic stylings on ”Surfer Rosa”.
‘Bad Indian’ reverts to a snotty Stooges thrash, as if to say “Hey, we can do it all“. ‘Sleeping In Blood City’ is another punky thrash whose hypnotic riff trades punches with Pierce‘s near hysterical vocal and there’s something in both the breakdown and manic chorus that makes me think Axl Rose may have heard the his track in his formative years.
‘John Hardy’ is a boom chicka booming Johnny Cash style tale of a bad man on the run – I’m not entirely convinced Pierce‘s voice is best suited to the material, but you have to salute the bands willingness to be tackle it.
‘The Fire of Love’ is a slow swinging, sleazy rock n’ roll the likes of which The Cramps like to grab and hump the leg of. The band share a genealogy, with frequent Gun Club member Kid Congo Powers also having had a stint in The Cramps (it was they who gave the guitarist formerly known as Brian Tristan that crazy name).
On ‘Mother Earth’ we end on a lovely little rockabilly croon, with ghostly lap steel and Pierce‘s deepest, sorrowful but restrained performance. It seems to show his deep love for the genre. Again the guitar playing is absolutely spine tingling.
This sprawling, improbable yet dazzling set of songs deserves to be in every discerning rock fans collection .
Before its release on CD, ”Death Party” was the holy grail of Gun Party fans, having had a very limited release on vinyl. Whilst it contains some good songs, with brilliantly bleak lyrics, especially ‘The House on Highland Avenue’, the playing is merely perfunctory. The EP features a short lived, ad hoc line-up who crash through the songs in a rather leaden manner. Also it just doesn’t work as a live album due to the lack of either crowd noise or on stage between song communication. .
1984’s ”The Las Vegas Story” features for the first time Gun Club legends Patricia Morrison on bass and the returning Kid Congo Powers for his first proper recording with the band. This results in the band refining their sound towards a much more classic rock approach. The country elements are still there, like on the excellent ‘Secret Fires’ but the edges have been smoothed down and an air of sophistication settles over the whole affair. That sophistication is most obvious on the inclusion of show tunes like ‘My Man’s Gone Now’ which will possibly repel the casual listener, but once you’re a fan of Pierce’s voice you’ll embrace this sort of theatricality.
”The Las Vegas Story” is also more compact, whilst ”Miami” seems to run for an extravagant length, while it packs in all it’s weird treasures, the follow up seems over almost too soon – a mark of a great album. The highlight of a very good set of songs is ‘Bad America’, which adds a very large helping of Television to the usual feverish mix and features one of the most incendiary guitar solos ever recorded to tape by Powers. It is astonishing.
Great as this album is though, I find I’m still more of a fan its more ramshackle, underdog predecessor, but that’s just my nature.