Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978

The Essential Radio Birdman: 1974-1978 (2001) ****

Bands like Sydney, Oz's Radio Birdman proved, along with the somewhat more heralded Saints, that punk rock would've and could've and did happen anywhere on the planet in the mid-'70s; all the catalyst needed was an American kid immigrating from Detroit to Down Under with a clutchful of MC5 and Stooges records (lead guitarist Deniz Tek) to introduce a gaggle of sunburned Aussies to the glories of black leather amphetamine hard rock.  The title is a stretch of a lie:  the band's first EP didn't come out until 1976.  And being only one CD, it doesn't quite include the entirety of their career (one EP, two studio LPs, a live LP with unreleased songs) and skips over some allegedly scorching Stooges and 13th Floor Elevators covers that I'll never hear.  Nevertheless, at 22 tracks, this covers most of their somewhat confused discography (only one of their albums, the debut Radios Appear, actually was released outside of Australia, and that in an altered form).  To confuse matters even further, the tracks aren't sequenced chronologically, but mixing material randomly from their three studio releases, with the strongest material shoved upfront - the CD takes a serious nosedive around track #15, with the remaining tracks being nearly uniformly of "eh" quality, and concluding with three tracks culled off the live LP.

Yadda yabba yacca, but what do they sound like?  Mostly they sound like an amped up Blue Oyster Cult (the title of their debut album is a reference to a lyric in "Dominance and Submission"), but writing much more consistently than BOC ever managed, at least for the first half of the CD.  Surprisingly they're much more exciting on the extended epics "Descent into the Maelstrom," with its freakout guitar solos vying in the mid-section with clanging barrelhouse piano (a nice touch to their garage sound) and "Man With Golden Helmet," which sounds like BOC attempting to ape the Doors.  The sound is rough and exciting, a little dry and problematic in its relationship to hooks - when your catchiest song is a direct ripoff of the Hawaii 5-0 theme song, you've got a problem.  Nevertheless, the rockers pummel through on strength of electric intensity, and they show themselves equally capable of the slow, smokey BOC/Doorsy ballad on "Love Kills."  Like "Love Kills," the absurdly intense pop of "I-94," references Tek's nostalgia for his Detroit American youth, with its ludicrous chorus about Eskimo pies and verses about not hanging out with some dude because he keeps drinking Rolling Rock instead of Strohs.  Rob Younger's adequate but colorless vocals are the weak link in the sextet, but hey, this is garage rock; the point is that Tek is a smoking master of the Buck Dharma "stun guitar" school, and the rest of the band keep up.  Speaking of which, the band's legacy roared on long after they disbanded in '78, with members dispersing to various obscure to legendary '80s Australian underground bands.  The biggest problem with this disc is that the band is rather limited in style and at 22 tracks, it gets wearying, especially considering that the second half is cluttered with too many faceless and uninteresting garage rockers.  But yeah, the Birdman at their primo rocked, muh man.

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