LIVE IT UP (RE-ISSUE) - David Johansen (American Beat)
A few years after the New York Dolls imploded down in Florida, and not long after a completely clueless Malcolm McLaren tried to recreate what was left of them as red leather, hammer-and-sickle-clad standard bearers of the Communist Party, Steve Paul and Teddy Slatus took control of the rudderless U.S.S. Johansen, cleaning David Jo up with a shave, haircut, cigarette, cuppa joe, and a new set of metrosexual, retrosexual togs that were, uh, funky but chic, grooming him for superstardom via a brand spankin’ new record contract with Blue Sky.
After four woefully underappreciated albums (“David Johansen,” “In Style,” “Here Comes the Night,” and the once promo-only “David Johansen Group Live”), Johansen steeled himself for this, his last serious blind grope for the brass ring while still portraying himself, “Live It Up” managing to garner him the most airplay of his pre-Buster Poindexter career and propel him all the way up to #148 in the U.S. album charts. That’s called sarcasm…
Culled from an MTV New Year’s Eve, 1981 broadcast that I have vague, boozy memories of arguing about with fellow party-goers from the tiny Detroit suburb of West Bloomfield with less-than-stellar SAT scores who insisted on watching “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rocking Eve,” this is a straight re-issue from American Beat Records – no bonus tracks or extras – but since it’s been 26 years coming, I’m not quibbling. Much.
Long gone by this time was the original David Johansen Group (guitarists Tommy Trask and Johnny Rao, bassist Buz Verno, and drummer Frankie LaRocka) responsible for most of the high points on those early Blue Sky albums, four swarthy, vaguely threatening guys of apparent Mediterranean descent capable of tearing your heart out with wound steel strings and dried animal skins. They had it all; chops, chiseled looks, clothes (perpetually in black), and great hair. Pardon me, I think I’m getting in touch with my feminine side over here.
Their replacements (Huw Gower, David Nelson, Brett Cartwright, and Tony Machine) reek suspiciously of studio hackdom, capable of delivering the goods on stage with a certain professional panache, but sorely lacking in attitude and greasy charm and doggedly determined to stay on script. Something tells me none of them could improvise a lick if you put a gun to their heads but if they did try, they’d blow a headpipe like the Yul Brynner robot from “Westworld.”
But Johansen didn’t choose a career path as a frontman for nothing, more than up for the dirty job of keeping things interesting if not devastating until the clock ticks twelve over into 1982, scattering four covers over an abbreviated track list of solo and Dolls touchstones. While the Animals medley which jumpstarts the album seems tailor made to guarantee him long overdue chart action, it’s the Spector/King/Goffin chestnut “Is This What I Get for Loving You,” breathless run through the Foundations’ “Build Me Up Buttercup,” and hair-raising, soul-baring rendition of his signature “Frenchette” that stick long after things peter out after a downright jaunty ‘Personality Crisis.” No good-night’s, thank-you’s, or how-do-you-do’s to be found; the crowd roar simply fades to black. For the life of me, I can’t recall how the original broadcast ended, but there’s no clues here.
“Live It Up” doesn’t approach the sublime pleasure of, say, imagining what Bjork would look like being ripped apart by hyenas, but it doesn’t go down bad with a six of Stroh’s, a jar of olives, and a warm, starry spring night around the campfire in northern Michigan. - Clark Paull
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