VIVA DICTATORS ¡- The Dictators (Dictators Multimedia)
It's rare that you find a disc with which you can't find even insubstantial fault. The Dictators, live and amped-up, are simply one of the best things on this musical planet. If you had to come up with something to balance the lavish praise we and fellow Tators fan-atics are spouting about this, it might be that the contemporary tunes on "Viva" manage to sound exactly like their studio cousins. And that's supposed to be a bad thing?
Recorded at Maxwells in Hoboken and the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and delivered with hollow-point impact, it's a celebration of everything that's made the Dictators great in an off-and-on history stretching back to 1974. Departed rhythm guitarist Top Ten is back from California for these recordings,
giving the band a heavier undertow than when they toured Australia. Handsome Dick Manitoba is in the sort of vocal form that might qualify him for
canonization, were he not of the wrong faith. Ross The Boss simply lays waste to anything and everything in his sonic path with a withering guitar
tone worthy of bottling.
The Dictators aren't/weren't for everyone. In fact by '78, so the popular line ran, they were perceived as too punk for the metalheads and too spikey
for the Judas Priest brigade. Fact was, they did sit somewhere in the middle and while that's regarded as good field position in a game of football, the
parents of today's American mallrats found them too hard to classify (presuming their local radio station or record store was enlightened enough
to acknowledge their presence). Sad fact of life is, when you're on a major label, if the demographics guys can't figure out how to market you, you're history. And as the '70s drew to a close, so it was...
There's not a tune here that a true fan won't know backwards, but "Viva" could also serve as a convenient entry point for the uninitiated. Although
they rate as classics, the first two Dictators studio albums have some sonic drawbacks that you learn to live with. Most of the best from all their
albums are on show on "Viva", in seriously good aural shape.
The one surprise might be the fabulous "Cars and Girls" (taken from a pre-gig soundcheck), which I thought was all but absent from the set list
these days. The point might be made too that there's not enough of the Manitoba between song monologues, but that just leaves something for the
spoken word album.
At a guess, we won't see the Dictators back in Australia for a while, if ever, and they're not exactly busy on the US touring front either. So pick up a copy of this. As someone once said, it's the next best thing to being there. - The Barman
THE DICTATORS D.F.F.D. (Dictators Multi/Media)
For those of you with attention span issues here's the short version: All killer and no filler.
While "D.F.F.D." (Dictators Forever Forever Dictators) is a perfect album title, they could just as easily called the record "Youre Lucky". The new Dictators album is a phenomenal combination of craft, power, and presentation. It puts together everything thats great about the first three Dictators albums and the Manitobas Wild Kingdom CD, which are all really different as far as I'm concerned. You get the hilarious slices of real life and pizza pie a la "The Dictators Go Girl Crazy", the crafted pop of "Manifest Destiny", the stripped-down power of "Blood Brothers", and the all-out attack of Manitobas Wild Kingdom's " And You?" And you get it all on one record. "D.F.F.D" just does not let up for a second. Like the MWK disc, not a single instant is wasted, but this albums almost twice as long as that one. To steal a line back from Ken Shimamoto, "The Dictators are like an All Star team of Rock and Roll." They have the ultimate Frontman (HDM), the guitar hero (Ross The Boss), the genius (Andy), the worlds greatest role player, a go-to guy on anyone elses team (Top Ten), and a skullpounding skinsman (T-Bolt).
I had heard a pre-release tape that had eight of these songs on it, but when I got the album I was stunned by what a little extra mixing and mastering will do for you. This thing is crushing. It careens out of the speakers, thats for sure. "D.F.F.D.", a true heavyweight, is so fat it sounds like its got two tubs. Like a championship fight its 12 rounds long. It starts off with a one-two punch combo that would put most people on the canvas for the ten-count right away, but if you survive the first two rounds they just keep pummeling away until you cry uncle. If you can go the full 12 rounds with this thing and not recognize its brilliance dont bother putting another dime in the jukebox, baby. If the first song, "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?" asks the question, the next 11 songs go about answering it.
Many of you are no doubt familiar with "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?" from the 7" of a couple years back. This is a different mix as is "I Am Right!" also a single A-Side from the mid-'90s. Andy Shernoff doesn't write songs, he writes anthems, and these are two flat-out classics. "I Am Right!" is one of the most ferocious pieces of rock playing you are ever likely to hear. The band is locked in completely, with the rhythm section driving and concise, and Ross and Top Ten ripping the strings up in a furious lead and rhythm combo. This type of playing is much more likely to be heard at a Blue Oyster Cult concert than on the album of any punk band. Intricate and precise. The original concept for the song came about when a luded-out teengenerate Manitoba was engaged in a battle for the spatula with his grandmother at a family barbecue. HDM let go and Granny ended up on the ground, but she learned a valuable lesson: That her grandson is Handsome Dick Manitoba and HE IS RIGHT! (You can believe that if you want to )
The third anthem is about what makes the world go round "Pussy and Money." While that might be hard concept for women to relate to, let's not kid ourselves The Dictators are Testosterone Rock. Sure, plenty o chicks dig them, but they are the cool chicks who relate to all the stuff that most women hate, not the Sarah McLachlan audience. Granted, having the Handsomest Man in Rock and Roll doesn't hurt with the ladies, but we're basically talking guy-rock here. This song seems to be a relative of "Laughing Out Loud," a number originally intended for the album that got bumped due to killer new songs like this one. "L.O.L." was also in the early MWK set in 1986, but was dropped from their show as well. "L.O.L." just might be the Rodney Dangerfield of Dictators songs.
Sing-a-long #4, "The Moronic Inferno" is poppy as hell, with plenty of uh huhs and oh yeahs. Chunky rock riffs abound and horns subtly add to the power. The Dictators have been playing this one live for a while now, and the recorded version is no disappointment. I'm one of those people who usually prefers "live" over "studio." Well, twice in a row now, one of the best live bands on the planet has outdone themselves on record. Not a bad accomplishment when you think about it. The Hitmen (the band that proved on their second LP that you could blatantly imitate The Dictators and still sound weak probably due to the Air Supply producers who worked on that album) had a record called "Moronic Inferno", unbeknownst to the 'Tators. Apparently they both got the title from a book.
"Its Alright" is a blast of heavy metal power with a signature lead from The (Real) Boss, who shreds on every song, but on this one he shreds even more. Its one of the brand new songs, never played live before as far as I know. It has a building up effect, like AC/DC's "Overdose" at double time, before breaking into the hooky chorus and going out with a furious 'DC-style romp.
"Whats Up With That" started out in the set of the Master Plan, a side project of Andy Shernoff, Keith Streng of the Fleshtones and Paul Johnson, ex-Waxing Poetics. (They did "Walking" by The Eastern Dark live. What more do you need to know?) Then the song was known as "Whats Up Wit Dat?" It got released on a 7" by Philly rock mag Carbon 14. Andy still sings it, but this is louder, tighter, fatter, and more grammatically correct than the original (which is worth tracking down for sure). It too is super-poppy and it bares a great resemblance to Bo Diddley's "Crackin Up." Conscious or unconscious - you decide.
The next bit of controlled mayhem on the Dictators disc is "Savage Beat," a little ditty about Diddley (and the Savage Bo Diddley Beat). It has the lines " We're rockin' to the Stones/Bo Diddleys on the stereo " The Rolling Stones cover "Crackin" Up" on their "Love You Live" album. You gotta love a band that puts subtle hints on the record for you to figure out years later. Hell, sometimes the hints are so deep the band isn't even aware of them. (BTW - If you play this one backwards it says, "Do it! Do it!" which is also really cool.) "Savage Beat," by the way, was performed by the Screaming Tribesmen in the early '90s, but they never recorded it. I love the Tribesmen, and their version rocks, but take my word this is the only version you need to hear. It's so damn hard and tuneful youll hum until your throat is sore. This may be the highpoint in terms of song craft. Then again, any one of the other songs could be too!
Anthem 8, "In The Presence of a New God," a real fist-pumper, was in the Dictators' set in the early 90s, got dropped, had the snaky guitar line appropriated for "Who Will Save Rock and Roll," and then made a comeback, sans snaky guitar part. This ones another slow builder with featured drums that drive the song (as they do on the whole album, really), and a great chorus "On your feet or on your knees, In the presence of a New God." That early Blue Oyster Cult connection reveals itself again. As the song fades out it sounds like they'll break into "Get It On (Bang A Gong)" any second. I'll have to ponder that one a while longer and get back to you.
"Avenue A," is a scathing (if hilarious) indictment of what the Lower East Side has become. Once home to junkies, thieves, hookers, and the homeless regular people in other words the 'hood is now home to chic bistros frequented by men in tan pants with sweaters tied around their necks. Tan pants? As Uncle Handsome says, "Be a man pick a color!" On this one, as well as the leadoff track, Manitoba and Andy sing together in a way they never have before. They sound great together, each balancing the other perfectly.
I will admit that "Channel Surfing" is not a full-fledged anthem, but thats only 'cause it's an instrumental. Its very twangy and reveals a side of Shernoffs songwriting mostly unknown. Back in the early '80s Shernoff made up a buncha tunes with Camden, NJ, resident Ben Vaughn (now a Hollywood composer of renown). They were supposedly rockabilly/roots rock type stuff that Shernoff basically threw out because at the time he didnt think anyone wanted to hear that kind of music from him. Well, if I thought I had a chance of success I'd be searching through his and Bens garbage right now.
The scary "Jim Gordon Blues," (inspired by drummer Jim Gordon who went nuts one day and killed his mom with a hammer) may be your best hope of not singing "Savage Beat" all day after listening to D.F.F.D. The chorus is superb, "I dont have a clue, I dont trust those who do, I'm just trying to shake these Jim Gordon Blues." Andy ably (try saying that 10 times fast!) sings this one, but before I saw the album credits I thought it was Top Ten, who, interestingly, doesn't sing at all in the Dictators. The guy led the excellent Del Lords for years doing the bulk of the writing and singing, but his role in the Dictators requires him merely to get up and be the coolest rhythm guitar player on the planet a role that comes naturally to him. (Plus a friend of mine is really jealous of his hair so he must be cool).
The closing anthem, "Burn Baby Burn" (which wouldve been right at home on side two of the MWK record), might just be the most lethal and hysterical song on the album. Tight metal (not to be confused with heavy metal) to be sure, its about life atop the food chain and singles out vegetarians for scorn and ridicule, "Plant killers try to rule my world." Dont those people know the joys of White Castles, Pepperoni Pizza, and Kung Pao Chicken? Jesus Fucking Christ! Manitoba delivers the message loudly and clearly, as always. The plant killers line is sort of borrowed from the Stooges "Head On," from Metallic KO, except in the Stooges song it isnt plant killers trying to run Iggys world, butt, well, never mind.
The playing on this album is so devastating that I really don't have the right superlatives to explain how great (and loud) everyone one of Ross' solos are, and how tight the band is. Combined with a level of song-craft that would make the Beatles, Marshall Crenshaw, or whomever you want to mention jealous, D.F.F.D. makes for a wild, thrilling ride through the world of The Dictators. Just as the Manitoba's Wild Kingdom album was near perfect, this one is too, only its even better. Whereas the MWK album played to one side of the bands strength, this combines everything great about the Dictators, hell, about Rock and Roll, into one user lean, mean, jive-fighting package. Craft, chops, humor, power, and a dynamic unique for all time to The Dictators that's what this record boils down to. Refer back to Manitoba 3:16 and you will find the question, "Who Will Save Rock And Roll?" Man, if D.F.F.D. doesnt do the trick we're all in bad shape. If you know whats good for you, you probably stopped reading this a while ago to search this baby out. If you are still with me GO ALREADY! Get this sucker now and thank me later! - Geoff Ginsberg
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