VICTIM OF DREAMS – Jeremy Gluck (Diesel Motor Records)
Context, dear reader. Context. I met Jeremy Gluck on Long Acre, London in 1979. We were both wearing Radio Birdman badges and that was as good as a Masonic handshake in those days. A lot of people talked about some make believe notion of an “us” and a “them”. We’d been smart enough to work out where that line in the sand should be drawn. You either had that badge or you didn’t.
It turned out that he had a band called the Barracudas and that they were playing a benefit for Ripped and Torn Fanzine. The fact that he was wearing that badge meant I was going to be there and I was going to pay them some attention. I thought they’d at least turn out to be a passable entertainment. I was wrong. They turned out to be seminal.
You don’t get to see a seminal band that often. In particular, you don’t often get to see a seminal band when they’re in the act of being seminal. Usually, you get to see once seminal bands go through the motions and embarrass themselves. You see, seminal is hard. In these days of casual hyperbole, all you have to do is turn up and you’re awesome. If you manage to show up three weeks in a row then you’re a legend. So where is the line between the barely adequate and the wildly sublime?
The Barracudas’ debut single was three months in the future. They still had the Woody that they soon would want back. The only thing they had to prove they existed was a bag of “Surf and Destroy” badges. I’d never heard of them and I had had my ears glued to the ground for something cool. Anything cool. The grapevine had shrivelled and the cultural winter had rolled on in. To get some kicks in the big town, you needed a god damn Ouija board.
Let me tell it like it was. The London music scene (as deified by the New Musical Express) was turning out to be a wee bit of a clunker. You shook the box and the contents didn’t live up to the labelling. I’d seen a clearly hash stoned Clash limp through their back catalogue with all the enthusiasm of boiled cabbage. It would take me five years to listen to their first album again. They were that awful.
A second generation of bands stumbled to fill the hole in the club circuit left in the wake of various ascensions to stardom. With lyrics clearly written after partial lobotomy, they weren’t anything you’d want to write home about and especially nothing you’d want tattooed on your arm for life. The UK Subs and their ilk sounded like old Black Sabbath albums cranked up to 45rpm. If you think that sounds like a good thing, you should dig up an old phonograph and try it for size. That’s the difference between theory and practice. It was the sound of good ideas gone bad; a photocopy photocopied over and over again until the whole image went Rorschach – and I’m talking blot test and not Ivy. (If only the Cramps or the Ramones would have come back to town and played, then I’d have been singing a different tune.)
The simple fact is that the really good stuff, both then and now, finds it difficult to grab a niche on the establishment circuit. You could trowel the listings of the Marquee, the Hundred Club and the Hope and Anchor for weeks on end and still only come across the kind of drizzling shit that always finds a stage to stink up. We were heading to a youth club in a Covent Garden cellar. Urban regeneration had pushed the fruit market, the community and its attendant young people out of the neighbourhood. To justify their continued existence to Westminster Council, the social workers had gladly thrown their doors open for the gig. At least they could say there had been some young people on the premises that month.
The night started drearily enough with some guy who called himself Larry the Lamb knocking out some sub Marc Bolan waffle on an acoustic guitar. A couple of years later, he’d change his name to Andi Sex Gang and, with his Children, would create that thing called Goth. As I said, seminal is hard and there was nothing seminal about his performance that night. Any hint of future fame or greatness was entirely noticeable in its absence. Instead, it was like listening to an animal with its foot caught in a trap.
I knew just how that animal felt as Larry left the stage only to be followed by a couple of truly forgettable punk bands. To a hammered four on the floor beat, they nailed the zeitgeist to the mast of mediocrity and vanished up their own arseholes. The hideous gravity of those black holes sucked light and hope from the room. By the time the Barracudas played I was ready to neck up. Fortunately, my life was saved by rock and roll.
Because that is what good rock and roll should do. This is the music we chose over the drab mediocrity of what we were milk fed. This is the music that we dance to. We don’t expect much; just that it’s done half right. The Barracudas did more than do it right. They wrote the book, drew the pictures and underlined the important parts.
I’ll save us all a bit of lengthy descriptive passage and explanation here. If you don’t know who the Barracudas are then stop reading this and go hit Youtube, Wikipedia or iTunes or something until you’re up to speed. Do some frigging research and thank me later as you’re hunting out their back catalogue.
If you have heard of the Barracudas then you don’t need me to tell you how good they were in 1979. You can be jealous as all fuck that you weren’t there but you and me are at least on the same page in terms of how great they were and how quietly influential they have been. They successfully melded '60s and '70s punk through a pop sensibility and created something beautiful. They could be goofy and funny, melancholy, angry or angst ridden, sometimes in the same song. Unlike their British contemporaries, they didn’t just pull something off the "Nuggets" album and beat it to death with a bloody stump. Their “Drop out with” LP is one of those must-have cornerstones of any half way decent music collection. They could have been huge and they should have been too. The trouble was that they were just outside of everything at a time when everything was supposed to have a nice neat box.
That basically brings me to Jeremy Gluck’s new CD. Jeremy is still outside of everything and now, more that ever, everything is supposed to be contained in an even nicer, neater box than ever before. Preferably that box should be repackaged every year as a Platinum edition or a new gold standard issue.
Many of Jeremy’s Barracuda lyrics are centred round a notion of being born in the wrong time. There is little to suggest those circumstances have changed with this release and the cards remain clearly stacked against him ever receiving the kind of recognition he deserves. However, the question that I must ask is this; does this CD contain music that is worth listening to today or is this merely a curiosity built on past reputation?
Before going on, I just have to say that “Victim of Dreams” isn’t a great album. Recorded over a number of sessions in different styles and with different personnel, it lacks the overall unity a great album should have. Combining elements of garage, punk, country and electronica, it jacks many trades but only masters some. It is, unfortunately, a whole less than the sum of its parts. That said, all those parts are good and some are pretty fantastic.
Should you hunt down a copy? Well, of course. Whilst this collection has its flaws, it is still more interesting than just about anything I have heard released this year. Even though I find myself frustrated by the final product, I still find myself applauding the ornery nature of the artist. There, more than anything, is your reason to take this disc to your heart.
Sure, it could have used some judicial editing or more wilful collaborators. The weird thing is, I jump in anywhere on the disc and I enjoy what I’m hearing. However, if I start at track one and work my way through, I get bored. That’s a bit of a mystery that may resolve itself through familiarity. The trouble is, how do you get familiar when you keep getting bored? Maybe, at nineteen tracks, it’s just too much to get your head around. Maybe its time we all remembered that less is more and that forty minutes of music is more than enough from anyone.
Okay. Enough of the quibbles. Here comes the hard sell. Let me tell you the things you will love about this album, any of which make it worth twice the price of admission.
Track One “Road of Broken Dreams”. This song begins as an alt. country track in the style of one of Jeremy Gluck’s previous bands “I knew Buffalo Bill.” Whether that delights, disappoints or totally appals you is a matter turned upon its head as the song shifts into garage punk territory. An opening gambit well played, a good joke at the expense of audience expectation. From here on in, you don’t know where the album is going.
Track Five “Dream Baby Dream”. After a batch of electric Dylanesque pop songs, the sudden arrival of this faithful version of the Suicide classic left me scrambling for the cover. At first I thought there had been some kind of mistake made with the manufacture of the CD. No, that’s definitely Jeremy’s distinctive voice. This turns out to be the cover version you always wanted to own but never dreamed could actually exist in this reality.
Track Six “Other Lives”. In which our hero gallantly attempts to combine the disparate elements of the album and combine them into a mighty whole.
Track Nine “Breaks Me”. A trip with the controls set firmly towards the heart of David Lynch Town.
Track Ten “Cold Outside” in which Jeremy suddenly tries to join the Pixies for no other reason that they are apparently there.
Track Eleven “Anybody” in which anybody who thinks there’s no evil in this world is in for a big surprise.
Track Thirteen “Killer” is the kind of perfect pop which could have been written by Arthur Lee and covered by Soft Cell but wasn’t either.
Fans of the late Nikki Sudden should also be aware that he wrote and co-wrote some of the material on this album. It was the final stuff he worked on before his death.
I’ve listened to this album five times now. It still excites me and frustrates me in equal measure. Jeremy Gluck may be a genius or he may have gone completely insane. It is possible that I am unable to judge. The fact that I can’t decide one way or the other should be enough for you to want to go out and investigate this thing for yourself.
Perhaps I just expect too much. Perhaps I expected a “Smile” and wound up listening to a “Smiley Smile”. Maybe I should just look at this as rag tag bag of demos and be content with what I got. That’s the trouble with greatness. Your audience expects you to live up to their wildest expectations and my expectations of this were wilder than most.
The one thing I know for sure is that there was a line in the sand that we drew to mark the difference between"‘us" and "them". Jeremy Gluck remains firmly on the "us" side of that equation. - Bob Short
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