Friday, October 7, 2011

The Last - L.A. Explosion!

L.A. Explosion! (1979) ***1/2

If all late '70s punky power-pop bands had sounded llike this, punk rock would never have happened - nor would it have needed to.  Frankly retro, the Nolte Bros. (Joe, Mike, and David, with distant cousin Nick not actually present but adding that crazy, drunken drug-addled uncle vibe:

meld the Beach Boys, British Invasion, and cheesily farfisa-driven mid-'60s garage rock into a highly enjoyable, if cheep-cheeply, thinly produced Cream.  (Actually, nothing sounding like Clapton & Bruce & Ginger, more like a tasty glob of Blues Magoo).  Joe's songs are led by the instrumental color flavored by keybist/flautist Vitus Matare (is that a real name?  Well, as likely as Jethro Tull), whose textures give the tunes a mildly sepulchral tone that situates a lot of the songs on this side of 'energetic melancholy'.  But not "This Kind of Feeling" - that's a blissful slice of innocent jangle-pop straight off the Flaimin' Groovy!  Or rather, an imitation of 1963 Beatles that's so perfectly copycat it manages to sound exactly as perfect as a track from the Groovies' Shake Some Action album released only a few years earlier (I'll review those guys someday, promise).  Thanks to Matare and the thin production, there's a pleasingly ethereal quality that adds a uniquely fragile touch to these energetic, tough melodic (and melodically tough) mid-tempo rockers.  In other words, it's one of those albums from the pre-technological days of yore in which the production 'flaws' become an integral part of the sound's charm.

Now, honestly, not all of these songs are clear winners.  There are several very ordinary and uninteresting tracks ("Walk Like Me," "Slavedriver,"  "The Rack," "Objections," "The Rack (Reprise)"), but the other 10 out of 15 tracks range from the great to good.  Except for the sleazoid cover of "Be-Bop-A-Lula," which flat-out sucks.  So that's 9 out of 15, still a pretty good batting average - about as good your average classic Byrds LP.  The killer tracks range from happy sunny pop ("This Kind of Feeling") to bitter sunny pop ("Someone's Laughing") to punky garage ravers ("I Don't Wanna Be In Love") to marching Battleship pop ("The Bombing of London") to cruising down the freeway pop ("Looking at You") to mild social criticism of the music industry pop ("Century City Rag").  My twin pair of personal standouts includes firstly the opener, "She Don't Know Why I'm Here," a dark, minor-key garage rocker that initially may seem unexceptional but over several listens proves the definition of a grower - ah, teenage angst; like a Moody Zombies gone Stonesy hard rock (note anguished raveup that explodes near the end).  Secondly, there's the flat-out nostalgia-fest of the surf-anthem, "Every Summer Day," (note the opening verses!).  It sounds like they're trying to sound like the Beach Boys ripping off Chuck Berry, and while this ain't "Fun Fun Fun," (what song could ever be?!) this sure is fun, fun, fun!!!  With three exclamation points!!!

In short, a delightful slice of nostalgic light entertainment, light in several senses (production, tone, effect) of the word.

P.S. Almost forgot about the bonus tracks.  Well, three of the six are merely inferior versions of album tracks, but the single version of "She Don't Know Why I'm Here," is substantially superior to the one found on the LP - but maybe that's just me.  Of the two B-sides, "Hitler's Brother," is a gratingly annoying punky throwaway, while "We're in Control," is tuneless freakout psychedelia that pulls out all the stops with backwards instruments, synth bloops, filtered vocals, excessively excessive.  Neither are truly worth your time.  So - only one bonus track worth hunting down.  But since the likelihood of your finding an original vinyl copy are as likely as the CD reissue w/bonus tracks going platinum, you'll get'em anyways.

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