THE ROCK 'N' ROLL DISEASE - Various Artists (Shock)
If rock and roll isn't to go the way of jazz and become a haven for the bland and the incurably snobby cultists, people have to get out and spread the word - determinedly and like they mean it. Support your local band's beer barn, and all that stuff. But compilations like this can also do a lot of the hard work, selling the idea that you can draw a pretty good bead on where you're going if you have a good look at where you've been (if that doesn't sound too Zen). The short story is, the good shit isn't going to find you, unless you go and find it. So take the short cuts...
This is NOT just a collection of crusty old rock tunes compiled by a bunch of crotchety old men with white beards and nothing better to do than scratch their balls, drink beer and say how much better things were back in their day (although there's a lot of that happening at the I-94 Bar most days of the week). Curator Dave Laing (formerly Dog Meat and Grown Up Wrong labels owner) has cannily mixed all the obvious precursors with a liberal sprinkling of the "hits" of today. Now, if you could never imagine the likes of, say, The Datsuns and, uh, Jet sharing CD space with Bo Diddley, the Dictators and Wild Billy Childish, you're not alone. Fact is, the whole shebang hangs together pretty well.
There are 47 songs over two discs and there's a natural progression, with the glam stomp of Slade and Suzi Q segueing into the glam garage of the Dirtbombs giving way to the bent garage blues of The Black Keys. Cleverly-tracked? You bet. Of course Alice Cooper pops up next to Iggy Pop and why wouldn't you sequence the NY Dolls' "Pills" next to Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?" The Dictators' Stay With Me" just had to lead into "Get It On" by Turbonegro, a great and derivative band that owes Handsome Dick and Co the odd co-write credit.
Remember tape swapping with your friends? The contemporary version is file-swapping, but that's cheating because you get to pick what you want. A few like-minded people on the divinerites mailing list do an annual Xmas swap of CD compilations, digging up some chestnuts (often of dubious taste - that's half the fun) or including the shit that's rocked our respective worlds in the course of the preceding year. Listening to "Disease", the penny dropped just a few cuts in: This is Dave Laing's Xmas CD - only you get the presents!
Let me run you through a few of the names and faces present: Iggy and the Stooges, Flamin' Groovies, the MC5, the Saints and Radio Birdman. You Am I, The Hives, The D4, the Spazzys (Ramones-loving gals from Melbourne) and The Paybacks (one of the current Detroit crop's best). The Cramps. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Power Monkeys. Danko Jones. Getting the picture? There's a balance of old and new, but what 90 percent has in common is that it's rocking, uncompromisingly loud and just plain great.
It's not entirely a boys club (although the fairer sex is only lightly represented): The Paybacks' "Black Girl" (singer Wendy Case is fearsomely great - like a female Angry Anderson without the severe haircut) and the Donnas' "40 Boys in 40 Nights" are liberated statements in their own rights (although the latter band is still over-rated, in my book). The BellRays lay down some great stuff when they write songs and spend less time noodling, and "Changing Colors" is one of them, from their "Future/Now" album. On the score of the BellRays, the "Aretha fronting the MC5" comparison has been done to death (and it is a stretch to say such a scenario sort of transpired on DKT-MC5's European leg when their singer, Lisa Kekaula, joined three-fifths of the Five, subbing for Evan Dando) . Let's just say that, on their night, Lisa and Co blow most anything else away. No argument.
I could do without only a handful of tracks. Jet's "Cold Hard Bitch" wore out its welcome in the I-94 Bar a week after it came out (and as Mr Laing points out, its undeniably great production probably was the thing that had it hanging in there for that long). On the other hand, Young (F) Heart Attack (the 'F' is entirely mine) do absolutely nothing for me. Their take on the MC5's "Over and Over" is the biggest load of overblown guff since that prat from Australian Idol covered "What About Me?" (and at least the original of that one sucked). But these are moments for which the "skip a track" switch was designed. Press on...
How essential a collection like this is for you will be determined by the size of your own music stockpile (but the fact that you've read this far indicates that you're at least on the same page as people who like this stuff). "The Rock 'n' Roll Disease" makes a fine soundtrack to driving a hot car on a still afternoon, or an infinitely better backyard barbecue listen than one of those bogan "Best Australian Drinking Songs" collections that they advertise in Ralph magazine (honest, I was only checking out the articles).
Proof positive that the so-called nu-rock/garage revolution didn't start yesterday. Call it whatever you like. Just get it. Be an evangelist and buy a copy for your kid or cousin. - The Barman
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR