FEED THE DOGS - The Holy Curse (Turborock)
If you're smart enough to have picked up on the hi-energy jams that France's best rock and roll band The Holy Curse pump out, you'll know they rarely put a foot wrong. And so it goes with Album Number Four (Number Five if you count their double disc compilation/live effort on Aussie label Off The Hip.)
The Holy Curse wed driving guitar rock to melodies in a way most of their competitors can only dream of. It's proudly in the same vein as the Radios, and the New Christs (even moreso), delivered with soul and passion that can't be faked. With "Feed The Dogs" they take a psychedelic route to reach the same destination.
"Feed The Dogs" is where guitarist Sonic Polo really steps up to the plate. A twin-guitar band for many years, Holy Curse had cause to take stock and reassess things with the departure of their other six-string compadre, Pascal, prior to their 2005 Australian tour. A few of the old tunes went by the wayside and the band wrote a stack of newies. "Feed The Dogs" was Polo's opportunity to work on his own terms and expand his sonic palette. He didn't waste it.
If we're talking about a move further into psychedelic territory (like on the epic "The Music & The Noise", "Bye Bye Preacherman" and "The Other Side") then we should stress that The Holy Curse haven't forsaken their love for what's loosely termed Detroit Rock. This album rocks as hard as any of its predecessors.
In that vein, "RSVP" is a tough-as-nails love song (that you should have grabbed on a split single with Johnny Casino & The Secrets, also on Turborock). "Sister Soul" is a crunching hip-shaker with an irresistible chorus and an engine block made on a production line in the Motor City. "Let's Go Surfin'" pits Birdmanish wave-riding with "Distemper"-era New Christs dissonance.
"The Music & The Noise" is a rippling, powerful song that might be frontman Eric Holycurse's best recorded vocal. The Holy Curse never overplay their hand, however, and the rhythm section always maintains a deftness and drive. There's a great feel at the heart of the closer "Universal Children" to underline the fact.
Someone reckoned anger is an energy. There's plenty of both in "Cash Machine", a stinging rebuke of reality TV-fueled pap, and the grim narrative of "Bye Bye Preacherman" where a kiddy-fiddling priest gets his just deserts. On the other hand, there's lots of humour in the noisy blues lament "Shit Happens" which sounds like it was a ball to record.
Committed to tape with analog gear over three continents at studios in France, Detroit and Sydney, "Feed The Dogs" involves produciton assists from Gary Rasmussen (Sonic's Rendezvous Band), Deniz Tek and French psych master Lucas Trouble (The Vietnam Veterans). Guest vocals from Mark Sisto and Dr Tek sit alongside a guitar contribution from Rasmussen.
It's only on LP but if you're quick here or ask the band nicely you might score a bonus CD promo of the album. Grab it and hear one of last Real Rock and Roll bands.
WEAR YOUR FRICKEN SEAT BELT - Holy Curse (Off the Hip)
Sacre bleu! France's best Real Rock and Roll band ends up on Australia's best constantly active garage rock label - and on the eve of an Australian tour. I'm biased but this double CD package is one of the best things released anywhere this year for lovers of the Detroit strain of hi-energy music.
There are obvious cues from the usual suspects (Sonics Rendezvous Band, the New Christs and Radio Birdman) but the band apply their own distinctive, Gallic passion. This is loud, sometimes dark, often intense and always honestly rocking stuff - I love it, even if some of my faves ("Night Train to Amsterdam", "Paradise" and "The Auction", to name just a handful) are missing.
Most bands would be happy getting a single album into the shops in an overseas market and there might be just cause for concern that they were spreading themselves too thin. No issues here - the tunes are uniformly excellent and Holy Curse have been going for 14 years, so they know what they're doing.
Disc one is mostly culled from the Curse's three studio albums: the formative but still formidable "Living With a Head", the multi-textured and magnificently moody "Hereafter" and the gritty, tightly-wound relative newie, "Bluer Than Red". There's four even harder to find EP tracks and a hitherto unreleased cover of the New Christs' classic "Born Out of Time" that compares favourably with the source.
Disc two bundles two live shows in December 2004 and May 2005 and showcases newer songs ("Life's a Bitch", the killer "Sister Soul","Let's Go Surfing"), some of which might end up on the forthcoming Sydney session with Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek producing. This is the latest one-guitar, post-Pascal line-up. A few might pine for twin-guitars, but Sonic Polo fills the right spaces and the Curse still rocks like the proverbial.
It's mostly unadorned - bar a guest sax player on "Night of Sin" who helps drive the tune into Coltrane free jazz territory, and some keyboards applied to "I Wanna Be Your Dog" by ex-Vietnam Veterans cult hero Lucas Trouble - and ample proof that Holy Curse would (and soon will) match it with the best that most scenes can throw up. The second half of the live disc isn't quite on the same level, sonically speaking, (the first was a radio show) but the power of the performance cuts through.
If you thought genuine rock and roll had been forced so far underground in France that the place no longer had much to offer, Holy Curse will make you think again. Anglophiles will be comforted by the fact that vocalist Eric sings in rock and roll's universal language, English.
If you're a lover of the live stuff you'll know that mismatches between headliners and support bands are more common than pissed idiots, but it's immediately apparent that Holy Curse were apt choices to play under the likes of European tourists like Radio Birdman, the New Christs, the Hydromatics and the Deniz Tek Group down the years.
In case you were wondering, the album title (and cover) comes from a neon sign in a Detroit bar, snapped by expat Motor City (now based in Paris) photographerpar excellence, Sue Rynski. Seems a bar owner lost a regular and well-regarded customer when he imbibed too many Pabst Blue Labels and re-arranged his car. "Don't drink and drive" might have been more socially responsible advice but it would never have worked as an album name...
Cliche free and righteous. Recommended without reservation. Fricken great. - The Barman
BLUER THAN RED Holy Curse (Nova Express)
Don't ever buy the line (usually peddled by the English) that the French cant play rock and roll. Truth be known, mainstream French music is either way too high culture for its own good or in the grip of multinational mediocrity, and the airwaves/TV spectrum are choked with blandishments and bullshit. (Yes, I have been there to experience it first-hand). I'm still to properly track down a decent chunk of work by stand-outs like The Dogs, who are the elder statesmen of the current crop, but scratch the surface of what's around now and you might find just Holy Curse.
With members spread over two countries (they're all French but bass player Vinz commutes from England) you can almost forgive Holy Curse for not being as prolific as some bands a situation that's been addressed of late with collaborations with Simon Chainsaw and this, their third full-length album. And it's their best so far.
There's still a healthy dose of Darlinghurst circa 1986 in the grooves, but the Curse mange to transcend their influences and make their own mark. Roughly translated, it's caustic guitar rock and roll, with just a hint of Gallic grandeur.
"Bluer Than Red" may also be the loudest record Holy Curse has made. Eric's vocals are a little buried in the mix and its way less mannered than on the intense "Hereafter", which itself was a quantum leap on their debut "Living With a Head". The fuzz-reliant, dirty sound co-producer Lucas Trouble has extracted (cop an earful of the intro on "Homeless" for proof) is timeless and sits well. Maybe a touch more bottom end might have gone down OK, but adjust the sliders on your graphic equalizer if you're in agreement.
They're slightly longer songs than you might expect, for the most part, with all but one clocking in close to 4mins or greater. With a tune called "Give Yourself Up (to Rock 'n' Roll)" you may be excused for thinking this is band prone to clichés. Again, that would be a mistake. The concept of having "your ass kicked by rock and roll" has been around a while, but the song turns out to be an anthemic rocker that's every bit as good as anything else on the disc.
"Long Gone" is a straight-ahead thumper, all snarling counterpoint lead and vigorous nodding to the New Christs, while "Red and Whites" is the obligatory mid-tempo reflective piece and a slow burn of merit. "I Feel Free" is the other concession to slowing it down (and has some choice guitar). Of course, both pale next to "Superfortress". Preceded by a Stoogey original, "Rivers of Blood", it's a nice contrast that segues into a steaming take on "I Wanna Be Your Dog".
When I work out where I've heard the opening song, "Lou and the Boys", I'll let you know but it outdoes whatever song Im thinking of anyway.
My advance copy had a hidden track that's a real knee dislocator and would go down a treat as a second encore in the live context. Dunno if it'll make it to the final product, but here's hoping.
Not a step away from their Detroit rock roots but confirmation of their status as the band whose sound you should be wrapping your ears around if you're into the genre. Not sure how Nova Express go for distro but if you have trouble tracking down, you can pick up a copy from Sonic Machine in Paris or in our online shop.
Buy it and get in on the secret. - The Barman
I'm going to have to break ranks here and admit to a slight tinge of disappointment with this newie from Holy Curse. Then again, my disappointment is relative; relative to their previous, earth-shattering "Hereafter" that is. In my view "Hereafter" was, is and ever will remain one of the great rock'n'roll records of the last half a century.
It must be frustrating to the band that so few punters outside their immediate sphere of influence (the suburbs of Paris and the larger towns within an overnight's van ride there and back) even know who they are. Yank, Pom and Oz record companies, and punters for that matter, aren't greatly interested in anything being done in Europe. I guess that partly it's the cultural divide (can you say "xenophobia", boys and girls?), partly it's the language barrier (although the lyrics of their songs are all in English) and partly it's the narrow mindedness of their potential fan base.
This apathy isn't limited just to French bands though. Ask the average Birdman fan to name the 10 greatest hard rock/Detroit/Oz rock/etc albums of all time and all too often you'll get the rote answer of "everything by Radio Birdman, everything by the Stooges, everything by the MC5... er, is that ten yet?". How many of the Sydney punters who packed out Radio Birdman's three Metro shows do you reckon had bothered to make the effort to catch Deniz Tek, the New Christs or any of Klondike's combos live in the preceding decade (or the more recent Deep Reduction gigs after the Birdman fever had subsided)...?
Holy Curse are definitely of the Birdman fan persuasion. For starters, their lead singer wrote one of this Bar's Birdman gig reports from their European tour last year. Not so long ago there was also a CD-R going around on which they covered "Cryin' Sun" (and "Born out of Time") and if that isn't enough evidence for you, then check out some of their lyrics, like this from "Recurrence" - "Like a Birdman, I'm taking wing/on my way to a nest of thorns... burn my eyes/come back to life again/I'm frozen alive...". Birdman references and a slice of Rob Younger's messianic imagery in the same song!
It's been just on five years since "Hereafter" and like independent bands everywhere, Holy Curse have had to juggle their desire to make the sort of music beloved of patrons of this Bar with the need to feed their families, which is why subsequent recordings have been limited to scattered tracks on compilations and split releases with other bands. However you can't keep a great band down forever (can you say "historical inevitability", boys and girls?) and thanks to a fortunate encounter with Nova Express mainman Lucas Trouble, they've found their way back into the studio with enough time and tape for a whole album.
Their first album, "Livin' With A Head", was a good album, but it sounded like a first album, like the band was still feeling its way. "Hereafter" came three years later, but sounded like it was separated by more like a few of decades than a few of years. It sounded like the work of a band that didn't have any doubts or hesitations. Perhaps the fact that eighteen months had elapsed between the recording and the release of that first album, combined with the fact that they didn't even have a record deal for the second album at the time they were recording it, added an extra impetus. After all, "Hereafter" could have turned out to be their last ever album, so why not go for broke?
Overall "Bluer Than Red" is a bit looser, but it certainly opens with a real enough roar. Seconds after the needle hits the groove "Lou and the Boys" comes bellowing out of the speakers and it's like being caught in the middle of bar fight; rough and raw, right down the primal end of the scale, with a passing tip of the beret to Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie" and a driving rhythm that makes you want to leap up and kick something, or someone [yeah okay, the needle doesn't really hit the groove, because this is a CD, but saying something like "when the bits begin to flow through the circuits" hardly carries the same impact..]
Next up, "(Give Yourself Up To) Rock'n'Roll" is a real rawk anthem. This is the sort of thing that could end up giving stadium rock a good name... Suddenly I find myself wanting to start babbling about "the majesty of rock", only Spinal Tap have already taken that phrase and kicked it out of bounds, right up into the stands.
"Long Gone" rocks well enough, but stylistically harks back to "Livin' With A Head" and fails to jell for me. "Resurrection" on the other hand catches the band doing what they do best; rockin' hard for sure, but brooding, damned and doomed as well. Holy Curse are capable of a sweaty urgency that other bands can only aspire to. If doing a twin guitar slow burn was an Olympic event then these guys could not only represent their country, they'd be strong medal contenders too!
"Red and Whites" is the real surprise of the album. With the normal intensity backed right off, it comes out sounding like some lost garage psyche classic (or has there been a Nuggets III that no one told me about?), only just that bit louder. Coming hot on its heels, "Las Vegas
On Sea" cranks things back up a notch on the fuzz boxes, staying in the garage but swapping the floral shirts and tasselled suede jackets for denim and leather. This is garage music as played by the Stooges.
The slide into Stoogerama continues with "Homeless", a fuzz drenched monster with a fat, blown muffler guitar sound reminiscent of Japan's Thee Michelle Gun Elephant, though not quite so ferocious, being offset by a surprisingly chirpy chorus.
At 3:50, "Enough" would seem to be hardly enough at all, being the shortest track on the album after the opener. "Air speed, not air miles!" singer Eric demands, but in truth the problem seems to be not that he hasn't had enough, but that he has.
Having heard their garagey experiments, it would be interesting to hear these guys attempt a power pop song as well, even if just as an exercise. You know, chicks and cars, parties and warm summer nights at the beach. In the meantime "I Feel Free" is about as far away from power pop as you can get, being another moody exercise in existential angst ("I'm deaf and dumb and paralysed/I'm a shadow in a dark blue sky..."), with an entertaining spoken work section where the singer has a major bust up with his girlfriend, who expresses her discontent in no uncertain terms ("gimme a break dickhead, get lost, you fuckin' prick...") and not surprisingly the relationship deteriorates from there. In power pop the path of true love may not run smooth, but in the Holy Curse's world it's not just rough, it's littered with landmines and tank traps.
In comparison, the following "Rivers of Blood" is quite upbeat, but ultimately just serves as a breather before the portentous "Superfortress" ("I'm a superfortress and I'm ready to drop..."), in which Holy Curse out MC5 the MC5, packing enough anti-U.S. imperialist and anti-U.S. militarist attitude into the first few minutes to nuke the military-industrial complex back into the stone age, before finally slipping on the old collar and leash and bounding into a rampaging rendition of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (perhaps a dig aimed at the current coalition of the deluded?).
After the inevitable 30-second gap, there's a final, "hidden" track. Well, not that hidden, because I could see from the display that the CD had still got another three and a half minutes to go, even if the noise had stopped coming out of the speakers and according to the tracklist on the back cover I had just heard the final song. While not quite in the same league as what's gone before it, it's still worth the wait. I'd assume it's something they just knocked up in the studio, as it's a joyous collision of a few favourite guitar riffs and some pisstaking at the expense of their new label boss. Since they usually approach everything with such somber intensity, it's a real contrast to hear them having a bit of a laugh (and it still rocks of course!).
The concept of French rock'n'roll too Gallic for you? Would it surprise you to learn that Detroit was originally settled and named by the French, as a trading post (Fort Ponchartrain du Detroit)? Holy Curse are just bringing it all back home, brothers and sisters.
It's only March 2004, but I think I have already heard one of the top ten albums for this year, even if it does stand slightly in the shadow of the preceding, monumental "Hereafter". - John McPharlin
ROCK 'N' ROLL AIN'T NO SOLUTION - Les Viperes/Holy Curse (SDZ/Shark
Hopefully, I'm not the only one to see the irony in a Canadian band singing in French and a band from France singing in English on this tasty 10-track split album. Then again, maybe it's not such a big irony. French is the dominant language in Quebec (from whence Les Viperes hail) and English is the tongue Holy Curse sing in all the time. Bottom line is that English is the primary language of rock, but both bands could be singing in Swahili and I'd lap this up.
As much as I'd be up to hear a full complement of new songs by either band, the Les Viperes-Holy Curse pairing for this disc is an inspired one. I'm guessing the decision to do a split album grew out of the run of French shows the bands did together a couple of years ago (one of which is reviewed by Barfly Greg "Birdman" Bowen here.) Both bands are an interesting contrast: Les Viperes travel a lot closer to traditional punk/thrash territory, while the Curse have their roots firmly planted in Aussie Detroit soil.
Having said that, they both rock extremely hard. Case in point: "Ma Solitude Et Moi" by Les Viperes rocks away on the back of a swinging backbeat and fearsome buzzsaw guitar. My lack of a grasp of all but rudimentary French makes the lyrics of "Terroriste" unintelligible but the band spits them out like they're on the wrong end of a gun held by some fuckhead in a balaclava. If the name of the split-album is a crib from the X song "Revolution", Les Viperes reach Lucas-like extremities in the vocals on "Blood Airport". Intense.
Tony Slug (ex of the Nitwitz and Lovelsug and currently of the wonderful Hydromatics) reckons Holy Curse is the only real rock band left in France. That may be a slight exaggeration (with the emphasis on "slight") but the five songs here do nothing to destroy that assertion. "Streets of Sleep" fits the mould of this band so well: A driving engine room and gut bucket guitars that fall away to a New Christs-like piece of prose over the outro. The re-worked version of "Too Much Paranoia" crawls along at reduced pace without going too many places its predecessor didn't, while the down but catchy "I Don't Dance" is positively pop dressed in lashings of guitar.
"Night of Sin" gives vocalist Eric a chance to emote as only a Frenchman can against the background of some musclebound guitar interplay by Pascal and new recruit Paul. Truly great cover of the Pink Fairies' "City Kids" too.
My copy had a formidable Holy Curse bonus track on it (the two-minute "Instro".). Hope yours does too, but if it doesn't or you just want a taste, grab it as an MP3 at their website. - The Barman
HEREAFTER - Holy Curse (Whiz)
If you caught up with the French five-piece and their first album, Living With a Head, you'll need to do the same with this -it's even better. This is a more mature, accomplished band with a superb grasp of dynamics and a willingness to try new things.
Many rock bands try for light and shade with extra instrumentation -Holy Curse are different because they make it work. They still rock hard, but they temper the assault with touches of strings and dashes of keyboards here and there and straight-ahead throat-grabbers like Forgotten Heroes and Paradise (don't wanna go) sit well with moodier pieces like Lost and Found.
The usual Radio Birdman lyrical references pepper the songs (not a bad thing -and Insane Alive is a great song title to steal), but it doesn't grate because Holy Curse pull it off with class. English may be the language of rock and roll, but it sure sounds cool sung with a French accent. - The Barman
On the surface (from the title and doomy cover art), this looked like one of those bands my daughter used to listen to, made up of guys wearing lots of white makeup with hair that color black which doesn't exist anywhere in nature, but it came highly recommended by both the Barman AND the Iceman, and neither of them has ever steered me wrong, so I took the plunge... This is the second album from these French Birdmaniacs. who opened some shows for the Deniz Tek Group on the last Eurotour.
Their sound is redolent in particular of the New Christs -the Youngeresque vocals, the balls-out guitar blast, the relentless drumming -and they sound like they'd be a murderous act to catch live, blowing up against the back wall in a club. Just dig "Forgotten Heroes" or "Dehumanized" (which explores some of the same territory the Tek Group staked out on Outside) or "Fallen Angel." They mix up the dynamics, too, with moody atmospherics provided by the filigree acoustics that set the stage for the mayhem on "Recurrence" and "Lost & Found," and even a string section on the opening "Paradise (don't wanna go)" and "The Auction."
The Barman says the lyrics are packed with Birdman allusions (I half expected the original "Insane Alive" to be a cover), but l'm too busy bouncing off the walls to this bruising music to hear 'em. Great record, great band -raging, furious, powerful.- Ken Shimamoto
LIVIN' WITH A HEAD - Holy Curse (Explicit Sound)
More Gallic rock, this time from a bunch of Le Havre Radio Birdman fanatics who must have thought all their Bastille Days had come at once when they secured supports to Deniz Tek on his recent European tour. A bit less obvious than the Backsliders, but no less effective, and the quirky lyrics just add to the appeal
Keyboard flourishes colour a fat twin-guitar sound with LPB's impassioned and accented vox giving them a unique sound. Instead of a "bloody train to Amsterdam", boys, board a 747 to Australia -we'll find you some gigs. - The Barman
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