DEATH IN THE GUITARFTERNOON - Larry Wallis (Ribbed)

In the Magic Mailbox today: an intriguing parcel from the UK, emblazoned with the catchy slogan, "RIBBED - FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE!" "Oh, Christ," I thought, expecting more of the kind of goodies that one of the previous residents in my current domicile seemed to get a lot of - ads for Viagra and like that. But no, it's just the slogan for the new label of Larry Wallis, who played guitar (but didn't record) with seemingly half of the late-sixties London underground before adding his sound to the collective insanity that was the Pink Fairies (for whom he co-wrote "City Kids," which lately has become pretty popular fodder for the cover mill - Deep Reduction, Holy Curse, who's next?), was present at the creation of Motorhead, and served a tour as house hippie/producer at Stiff Records (not being cool enough, then or now, to buy singles, my introduction to him was the "Stiffs Live" album. and I remember wondering what in the HELL this American longhair was doing rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Wreckless Eric and the rest). The man who, as producer, let "the pop [get] a little out of hand" on Mick Farren's "Vampires Stole My Lunch Money" album.

Romance of the Artifact connoisseurs and people who grew up in the elpee era like myself will appreciate the slick, which folds out to LP-jacket size (the tracklist is conveniently divided into "Side One" and "Side Two") and bears some spiffy psych cartoon/Western artwork (not quite as cosmic as the Deviants' "Ptooff!", say, but good value nonetheless). Others might find it interesting/revealing that Lazza's face is always hidden in the photos, but far be it from me to overanalyze a muso with a pedigree like Mr. Wallis'. Au contraire, the tale's in the toons, so let's us get there quick.

Wallis (whose sound has been compared to "Hank B. Marvin on acid," a description that seems tailor-made for the Fairies' pre-Wallis cover of "Walk Don't Run") is one of a small handful of Rawk guitarists (Bro. Wayne Kramer, whom Lazza backed up on his first post-incarceration London gig at Dingwalls, and former Fairy/current Deviant Andy Colquhoun are two more who readily spring to mind) who are still taking the axe to interesting places seldom visited by less-inspired mortals, although his sound is less blues-drenched and jazz-inflected and more, uh, CRYSTALLINE and SHIMMERING than either of the aforementioned players (for proof, check out the gorgeously lysergic ride on "Where the Freaks Hang Out," a reminder, as if any were needed, that the pre-Wallis Fairies - who no less a personage than Deniz Tek rated, in their '71 incarnation, as "better than the Stooges" - once shared the stage at Glastonbury with the Grateful Dead), and like every good guitar player, he namechecks Jeff Beck ("the Guv'nor"). Wallis' Morriconesque melodicism is showcased to its best advantage on "Dead Man Riding" and the instrumental "El Diablo's Hangin' Ten." He's definitely traveled a long way since the days when the other Pink Fairies would leave him alone onstage with his Stratocaster, his fuzzbox, his wah-wah pedal, and his Echoplex to crank out the extended Hendrixisms. (For more interesting detail on the history, see the Forced Exposure interview on Larry's website.)

But if it was just a matter of guitar chops, then this'd be another Jeff Beck album, and who needs THAT? Unremitting instrumental excellence for its own sake is, well, BORING. You've gotta have SONGS to hang all that expertise on, and that old Lazza does in spades. He self-deprecatingly refers to the toonage here as "rock anthems," but there's at least one item here that qualifies for that tag - "Crying All Night," which sounds like the Who would sound if Townshend still gave a shit about anything besides learning John Coltrane licks and mounting a Broadway production of "Quadrophenia," no, "Lifehouse," to make that big balloon payment on the boathouse in Twickenham. And he wins points for the wordplay in the title "Mrs. Hippy Burning" (it took me a coupla listens to get the joke; non-film fans will want to sit this one out).

Wallis revives his '77 Stiff single "Police Car" here in an extended version that boasts some Neil Youngian guitar damage (albeit with a cleaner tone), with solid, unobtrusive support from "The Meatmen" (Big George Webley on bass and Wayne Casserly on drums; never have bespectacled Brits looked so menacing as do these two in their liner pics). The closing "Screw It" (more wordplay, this time a piss-take on the Pink Fairies' most famous song) is four minutes of vitriol and spleen directed at one John Alder AKA Twink, the former Tomorrow/Pretty Things/Pink Fairies drummer and, by Messrs. Farren and Wallis' accounts, a colossal opportunist and not near the top of either of their Christmas card lists. Subtitled "How Do You Creep," it thankfully rocks along with much more forward motion than John Lennon's similarly-titled character assassination of his former writing partner.

Mick Farren, whose association with Wallis predates the latter's tenure in the Fairies, is a palpable presence here, and not just because he contributed mordant, apocalyptic lyrics to two of the songs ("Downtown Jury" and "Don't Mess With Dimitri"). There's a distinct vocal similarity between the two men ("like me only more tuneful" is how Farren describes Wallis' vocalismo), and they seem to share more than a few obsessions. Indeed, the opening "Are We Having Fun Yet?" wouldn't have sounded out of place on one of Farren's nineties albums.

Overall, a welcome return from a guy whose career straddled hippie and punk and who still isn't out of ideas yet. - Ken Shimamoto


 

 

 

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