ROCK 'N' ROLL URANUS - Simon Chainsaw (Dark Roasted Records & Tapes)
The Johnny Rio Sonic Ranchos box set series is rolling out and this bring us to the half-way point. If that means nothing to you, be aware Aussie punk powerhouse Simon Chainsaw is progressively issuing a series of stockpiled albums in a flash slipcase that you can buy as a set or individually. "Rock 'n' Roll Uranus" continues the assault in stunning style.
This might end up as the best thing Simon's done. I heard the early, unadorned version of "Uranus" some years ago and it was good, but the finished product is something again. Unabashed, all-consuming guitars are plastered over this record like petrol on a bonfire and the energy levels are extreme.
Recorded in Germany while Simon was based in Brazil with a Franco-German engine room (drummer Bernard Klimik and Holy Curse/Dimi Dero Inc bassist Vinz) and Sonny Vincent sideman Johnny Rio on lead guitar and production, it's a ballad-free zone of crushing rock-punk.
So "Rock 'n' Roll Uranus" is a barrage not a slow burn. Song after song charges forth from your speakers with walls of guitar, the trademark Chainsaw rasp and arresting melodies.
There's the barbed wire touch of Sonny Vincent's guitar in "This Man's Ruin", "Catfight" and "We Ride" (especially) that propels the songs forward. Throw in "Gone Too Far" while you're at it. Relentless, for sure, but also tuneful.
"Stealin' Fu Manchu" is the closest things get to powerpop and is almost a breathing point after an opening salvo of three firefight tunes, but it's closer to Social Distortion than the Sunnyboys. (Guitar) distortion rules on "That's My Song" and "Bringing Me Down" swings sweetly in the style of the best Hard-Ons music.
The back story says that the album was unfinished and spent a couple of years lying around before Johnny Rio applied some post-recordng additives. Some of the vocals are out there at the edge of Simon's range and that ups the edginess.
Simon's music is well anchored in the Sydney underground of the '80s but he pulls on wider influences, none of which I'm going to labour at this point. I could rave a lot more and pull apart each song but that'd spoil some of the surprises.
Resistance is futile. Give in and buy. - The Barman
FIRE DOWN BELOW - Simon Chainsaw's Badass Roadshow (Dark Roasted Records & Tapes)
Yes, you're not seeing double and there are two reviews of this album on this page. Previously available as a CD-R to various parties, it was originally intentioned for "proper" release on a then promising but new defunct label, way back in the days when Sydney trains ran on time and a tankful of petrol cost less than half a week's wages. Its arrival on Simon Chainsaw's own label gives us something to cheer about, even in the face of a global financial clusterfuck.
John McPharlin's review fairly well lays it out musically so I won't go over old ground. Suffice to say that the although the final album is no million dollar production job, it's still sharper than a sackful of sea urchins on a Sunday. Guitars froth, foam and generally surge all over the place.
Most of the players are Germans as this was recorded during an extended period Simon spent in a rock and roll POW camp in Berlin, undergoing re-education in scuzzy guitar rock and roll. Production is by Kommandant Johnny Rio, who also plays mucho mean lead guitar.
The added attraction is the sparring lead guitar of Sydneysider Big Al Creed (ex-New Christs, Dr Fruitworld, Panadolls and now in Hell Crab City) on a handful of songs. He also helps on the songwriting front. They're his bloodied fingers on the fretboard photo on the back of the CD case. 'Nuff said.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable trip over 12 compromising cuts. The influencers who used to populate do battle with shitty sound systems and sometimes shittier audiences in Sydney pubs back in the heyday of the underground music scene get a shout-out on "Back To My Roots", which is what this album was for Simon.
That it's out after a decade is good news; that it forms the first of a quartet of progressively-released CDs that will make up a box set is even better. You can even register for the same number for each in the series if you're quick. Procurable with the others in the series or individually via the Chainsaw Global Cottage Industries website along with the spiffy accompanying slipcase. Buy it before we all go to hell in a handbasket. It's only money. - The Barman
ALPHA NEGRA - Simon Chainsaw (Dark Roasted Records & Tapes)
This would have been solidly positioned in the Barman's personal Top Ten for 2008 but for an accident of timing. Which means it arrived in December (slipped under the door - now that's service) and went away on Xmas holidays. It's been played incessantly since.
Surrounded by Brazilian players of his choice, Simon Chainsaw has delivered an 11-song set that anyone with an ear for high-energy, focussed rock and roll of the Aussie '80s/Birdman/Saints sort couldn't help but like. A participant in that late-'80s scene, Simon's always had a great ear for pop hooks going back to his Vanilla Chainsaws days, but his penchant for marrying pop to punk power is simply going from strength-to-strength.
The triple-punch that kick-starts proceedings tells the tale: "Deaf Ears" is an emphatic opener, punchy and lyrically clever with a fluid lead break. It's a perfect lead-in to "You Ain't Me", a punky call-and-response and Chainsaw's best vocal on the album. It roars out of the speakers like an aural mugging. "I Drink" doesn't let up, with some chiming chords and a rise-and-fall melody line leavening the downstrokes.
The band brings a metallic feel that doesn't detract from the songs. Lead guitarist Ricardo Adamatti is fluid and with a touch of flash - but not overly so. The engine room rocks and the time recording them in a higher-grade studio was well spent.
It's hard to pick a favourite. "Bruna" is chugging punk-pop and fairly irresistible, while "Sticking Up For Myself" comes across as a harder cousin to "Deaf Ears" with another big chorus. The title track's another contender with its rippling riff-a-rama and snaking lead guitar.
The closer is a real departure. "No-One To Blame (But Myself)" is an acoustic lament that thousands of rheumy-eyed chasers of stardom playing shit-hole bars all around the world could relate to. A little out of place but it works a treat regardless. It's a million miles away from being autobiographical but some of the best songs are, despite what Lou Reed's more rabid fans might tell you.
Simon Chainsaw's been favourably compared to cult punk faves like Kevin K and Sonny Vincent which is fairly on-the-money. Miss this one at your peril. You can snapi it up here.
- The Barman
TOLD ME A LIE - Simon Chainsaw and the Hippy Killers (Tronador)
Expat Aussie Simon Chainsaw makes albums as often as most people make breakfast - which isn't to suggest "Told Me a Lie" and its predecessors are the musical equivalent of wholegrain bran. Aserving of Chainsaw Rock, however, is way more beneficial for your system than sugar-coated flakes of hi-carb corn.
The formula is well evident: Guitar-fueled tunes with Simon's alternately soaring and gravelly vocals, plenty of melodies mixed with power and a pace that rarely, if ever, slackens. "Told Me a Lie" doesn't disappoint on any of those scores. Social Distortion meets The Clash without the sloganeering. No wonder this guy's a big deal in his adopted home of Brazil, where punk-derived rock and roll enjoys a status previously known only by the Mop Tops and the Ramones.
The Hippy Killers pack a formidable punk rock punch with guitarist Fabio Marrone's leadwork a feature. A string of guest players from all over South America, France (Vinz from Holy Curse) and New York City (Johnny Pisano of Marky Ramone and the Intruders/Jesse Malin Band) contribute extra instrumentation. More rock punk than punk rock (always a plus aorund here), but the tempos don't often slacken if that's an issue for you.
It's all good but that's not to say that the occasional song might not benefit from some judicious trimming or an injection of light and shade to make them great. I know Simon's had it in his ear before but I still have to wonder what some of these songs would sound like with a little brevity, a dash of keyboard or different guitar sounds. The mid-tempo "Communication Breakdown" works in because the wall of guitars is temporarily dispensed with so it can breathe. "Bad Luck Guy" has a great melody line but suffers from backing vox that are buried in the mix. Half the fun for Simon is self-production and working fast, and he has worked before with producers, but you never know what an external ear could have brought to this particular party, even if that had invovled extra expense.
That said, you'd go a long way to hear a better cover of Razar's "Stamp Out Disco" (you'd go a long way to hear or any Razar cover, for that matter) The title track (half sung in Portugese) lays out a molten carpet of guitar, while "1,2,3, Go Go Go" and "Get It On" are eminently moshable and enjoyable fodder for I-94 Bar patrons.
While "Told Me a Lie" might be more of the same for Simon Chainsaw, such consistency is something plenty of contemporaries would kill for. Cock an ear and find out for yourself - or betetr still, play back-to-back with "Basta" and "Down to the Wire". This is great music to accompany a long, fast drive down a highway with the window open. - The Barman
DOWN TO THE WIRE - Simon Chainsaw (Nova Express)
The great thing about this album is that there's no stuffing around. The songs are concise and to the point. Simon and his multi-national strike force gets in, drops the rock and roll payload and gets the fuck out of there. Brevity is the byword. A hit-and-run mission - and the odds are you'll call in another airstrike as soon as it's run the course of its 36 minutes.
Teaming with a Franco-German band (drawn from the ranks of Holy Curse and a Sonny Vincent backline, two of the Bar's perennial faves), the underrated Brazil-based Australian spits out a dozen frenetic tunes. Recent Chainsaw bands have been top-notch (the Forgotten Boys spring to mind), and these guys are no exception, but the arrangements here are less drawn-out.
Lead guitarist on most cuts, Johnny Rio, can take a bow; his sharp playing adds real sting to already steaming tunes like "Get On With the Show". His photo has also been enigmatically left off the CD slick "for contractual reasons" so we can only guess at his true moniker (or wonder if his day job is as an extra in a ghost train). The other lead player, James Kipput, doesn't acquit himself badly either.
The engine room of Vinz Holy Curse and Buenax Samurai lays down a fat bed of sound to rival most anything else around, the slight ring in the snare notwithstanding. They also cook up a shitstorm on a foot-to-the-floor stomper like the ever-accelerating "Can't Break Me".
The mix might be a little dirtier here than on other Chainsaw recordings (actually, a lot dirtier), but that's no detraction. It's roughed-up but not to the point of muddiness. The songs are high on the energy quotient with no superfluous embellishment. The other key factor is the Chainsaw vocal - gravelly undertones blessed with the ability to ride the melody line home on catchy songs like the title track or the monstrous "Sick".
Play it back-to-back with "Basta" and you'll appreciate that there are quite a few people out there around the globe doing their utmost to keep Real Rock Action alive. Oh, you can buy a copy in our shop, too. Now if Simon would only get back to Australia and play live here more often, a few more people in this neck of the woods might know about it. - The Barman
BURNIN' ROCKIN' GHETTO WORLD - Simon Chainsaw (Corrosion Productions)
When there's talk about Aussie artists "taking it to the world", the name of Simon Chainsaw (a.k.a. Simon Drew) should come up a lot more often than it does, because he's been taking it to extremes for years. As he proclaims on his web site, "Rock'n'roll has no regard for geography".
This is a sampler distilled from Simon's last four releases, or planned releases anyway. A while ago I decided I wouldn't bother writing about samplers any more. If a sample is good then what's of interest is the actual record that the sample came from and if it's no good then... well, the less said the better.
Only before I was even half way through this CD, I began to feel an uncontrollable urge to start ranting and raving about it. I could have gone next door, battered down technoboy's door and made him cop an earful of what great fuckin' songs these are, but judging by the dumb and bass drivel I so frequently hear emanating from his place at two in the morning, I don't think he has much of a clue about what good music sounds like. I guess that just leaves you and me, but you might be at something of a disadvantage because I suspect I'm the only one of us with the record.
These tracks come from "Basta" (recorded in Brazil with Sao Paulo's Forgotten Boys), "Fire Down Below" and "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" (recorded in Europe with a variety of musicians including members of French bands Holy Curse and Turbolove and most of Sonny Vincent's German line-up, plus on "Fire Down Below" Al Creed from the New Christs) and "Perigo De Vida" (another Brazilian album, apparently with an "all star" cast of luminaries from local bands all over the country). The albums are credited variously to Simon Chainsaw & The Forgotten Boys, Simon Chainsaw's BadAss Roadshow and Simon Chainsaw & The Hippy Killers.
However this barely scratches the surface of Simon's prolific output over the past few years, which also includes the magnificent Chainsaw Men album (a collaboration with members of San Diego's Gamma Men, released variously as "Point Blank" and "Electric Juju", though regrettably not too widely distributed under either title), "Hell Die Glaser Klingen" (by Simon Chainsaw with The Intruders - another collaboration, this time with members of Marky Ramone's backing band), an as yet untitled CD for French label Nova Express (with some of the same musicians from the "Fire Down Below" and "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" albums) and at least an album's worth of classic Oz punk covers (Simon's very keen on Oz's golden decade of the eighties, as he makes plain in "Back to my Roots" on this sampler, but not to the extent of ignoring the present or forfeiting the future).
If you've been visiting this Bar much then you'll doubtless have heard of some of these records already, because the flag has been waved enthusiastically every time it has looked like one of them was going to be turned loose into the wild. Unfortunately when you look at Simon's web site , only "Basta" shows up in the "active" releases section (though it appears he does have copies of both the earlier "Electric Juju" and the Vanilla Chainsaws double CD best of "When Liberty Smiles", also the subject some time ago of an enthusiastic endorsement by yours truly), while "Fire Down Below", "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" and "Perigo De Vida" are all (still) "coming soon".
As if that wasn't enough, he's been back in Australia recently and there's talk of a new band featuring former New Christs Mark Wilkinson and Christian Houlemare, though the latest advice (from that most reliable of sources - a bloke I met in a pub, or in this case a bloke I met at the bar of a floating tavern during the Celibate Rifles Christmas cruise around Sydney harbour) is that some sort of a European tour might happen first, as commitments in Brazil will mean that there won't be time to do anything in Australia before the planned European dates...
One of the major complaints I usually have about samplers is that they tend to be patchy - you just start to get into something and then everything changes. Of course this is an all Simon sampler, so you'd expect a little bit more consistency with it, but then these albums were recorded over a period of three to four years (2000 to 2003) and there's a complete change of personnel every few tracks (each of the four albums gets three tracks apiece), which conversely you might expect would lead to significantly more jarring inconsistencies.
The reality is that there's not too much in the way of inconsistency here at all. Clearly the secret has been to find musicians who want to play the same sort of music that he does and then let them get down to it. He's not afraid to let the other musicians contribute songs either, with Steve Gardner responsible for roughly half the songs on "Point Blank"/"Electric Juju" (including the stand out "Frank Little" and "Meltdown") and Al Creed contributing several songs to "Fire Down Below" (four I think, but I can't place my hand on the cover at the moment and I'm not stopping to look for it now).
The sampler opens with three tracks from "Perigo De Vida", the only album that I hadn't previously heard any promo tracks from, but from the moment that "Get It On" cranked itself up it seemed to be very much the same mixture as before. The Chainsaw trademark sound involves guitars; lots of them. Think Husker Du's hard edged abrasiveness melting into the Buzzcocks' melodic grind, with occasional wailing slabs of lead laid over the top. If you like that sort of thing, then this is definitely the sort of thing you're gonna like!
The other aspect of Chainsaw records of recent years has been the sense of urgency in most songs. Doubtless this has something to do with the "hit and run" circumstances under which they recorded, but there aren't too many slow, self indulgent intros amongst this lot. As soon as Simon's out of the blocks, he's up in your face and going at it full bore. Lyrically there's that same sense of "songs sung as if lives depended on them" that Bruce Springsteen used to have back in the lean, mean days before he could afford his first mansion.
"Get It On" does just that and then "Told Me A Lie" turns everything up a notch. No, that doesn't mean that it's turned up to eleven; there is no eleven. When that guy said that his amp went up eleven, that was just a joke. This is no joke. This is heaving, seething rock action.
For a couple of seconds it seems that "Hard Luck Guy" might be slightly calmer than "Told Me A Lie" but no, this one's a real rager too. Between "Hard Luck Guy" and "Eight Times Lucky" (which manages to work references to both "Eight Miles High" and "Eight Days A Week" into its lyrics) there's hardly a moment's respite to catch your breath. Yep we're out of "Perigo De Vida" and into "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" without seeming to skip a beat (heart beat or drum beat, take your choice).
"Catfight" isn't going to win Simon any fans on the Women's Hour of his local radio station, but I don't think that's his target audience, so no harm done there. Just in case you've been fooled into thinking that it's all stern and unrelenting rock, Simon does have a lighter side which gets a brief airing every couple of albums. The prime example of this would have to be "Joyride" on "Point Blank"/"Electric Juju". Is there a single motor vehicle/sexual innuendo in the English language that's missing from this song? Apparently Jules Normington from Phantom Records once called it the most puerile song he'd ever heard, though given that this is the country where the 3 biggest hits (ever!) are "Sadie the Cleaning Lady", "Up There Cazaly" and "Shut Up-a-Your Face", I'm not sure that this would necessarily be a draw-back, saleswise, if it was true!
Anyway "Catfight" still rocks like fuck and it doesn't last too long (barely two and a half minutes) if you can't get with it and then you're into "Stealin' Fu Manchu", which is an unusual departure for Simon, veering alternatively between muddy stoner heaviness and crisp power pop lightness.
Once again the transition between albums, this time from "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" to "Basta", is barely perceptible. Actually that's not quite right. Out of the four albums sampled here, I'd have to say that "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" comes across as the lightest from this track selection and the "Basta" title track, which is the first of the three chosen for this sampler, is like some sort of aggressive urban renewal set to the sound of loud guitars. It hits you like walking into a shower of falling masonry as the buildings come down around you, so your head is spinning and you're too busy seeing stars to take in the transition.
What you need then is "One For The Road", which is exactly what you get next. The track after that may be "I Was Wrong", but there's no hint of apologies, or regrets, in "One For The Road", which could almost be a hymn to fond youthful memories of cheap alcohol, fast cars and a complete absence of random breath testing; when a bloke could get dumped by his girlfriend, get tanked up (assuming that the "one for the road" being referred to is a drink, although the "I need to unload" rhyme is a trifle ominous) and then just power off into the darkness; not particularly socially responsible I'll admit, but then this is rock'n'roll after all.
I'm not going to talk about the three tracks from "Fire Down Below" at all. That is one fuckin' killer album and I'm stuffed if I know how anyone could pick any three tracks ahead of the other nine. I'm equally stuffed if I can comprehend how that album can continue to languish unreleased...
Having said that, my favourite "Fire Down Below" track at the moment is "Supersonic", which wasn't one of the three chosen for this sampler. While lyrically a flippant couplet like "That rockin' noise is just a tonic/it fills me up like high colonic" might make it sound like Simon's not altogether serious, or else that the song more rightly belongs on "Rock'n'Roll Uranus" (or maybe "Fire Down Below" actually refers to a bowel inflammation?), the tempestuous sea of glorious guitar noise over which the song sails is definitely no laughing matter.
Four albums, with 12 tracks apiece - that's 48 ball-tearing songs in three or four years (well forty seven actually, because "Basta" contains both English and Portuguese versions of the title track)! With Simon chucking so much stuff at the wall, sooner or later something's gotta stick. In the meantime, for an extra three bucks he's chucking this sampler in with anything ordered from his website and I guess that's gonna have to do.
[According to news literally just to hand as I was typing this, the formerly untitled French CD will be called "Down To The Wire", while "Perigo De Vida" will appear as "Told Me A Lie" on Tronador Records some time this year] - John McPharlin
BASTA - Simon Chainsaw and the Forgotten Boys (Tronador)
Finally, this one's seen the light of day. A couple of us in the I-94 Bar have been singing the praises of onetime Vanilla Chainsaw-turned-citizen-of-the-world Simon Chainsaw for some time. "Basta" sees him working with a bunch of South American players and this f is a brutal slab of melodic rock that screams out for wider attention.
There's a backlog of Simon Chainsaw material in the can so you really have to ask the question: Does it really take an Aussie based in Brazil to put label resources behind an album like this? As well as "Basta" (recorded while Simon was working in Brazil as a guitar tech for touring overseas bands like Marky Ramone and the Intruders and Killing Joke, some of whom would haul him up on stage), waiting in the wings is a disc with him fronting French Detroit rockers Holy Curse, a record ("Rock n Roll Uranus") spawned by a coupling with Sonny Vincent's German band, an album's worth of classic Oz punk covers (only awaiting guest soloists), a fiery album ("Badass Roadshow") with ex-New Christ/Panadoll Al Creed and another brutal set with yet another Brazillian punk band, the Hippy Killers. Simon writes driving, guitar-based rock with lashings of melody, with growling but tuneful vocals (hence the Chainsaw tag).
These are some of the best - and shortest - songs he's written, all but one clocking in at less than 4mins each. Hooky songs like "Thinking About It" and "Million Miles Away" mix it with grinding ("Bag of Bricks", "Always Wrong") and driving rockers ("Basta" and the Lime Spiders-like Killing Off the Past"). Plus, there's a masterful cover of the Saints' "No Time" that pits guitar against hot boogie piano (the guitar wins, but it's a close run thing).
Dunno why Brazil doesn't spring to mind when someone says "rock" - South America's produced some mind-bending psych in the late '60s and acts like the Ramones are (still) worshipped there in a way that makes the Beatles look like they couldn't have gotten arrested. Simon's lolcal mates, the Forgotten Boys, provide (warning: bad pun approaching) "memorable" backing and are as tighter than a tourist's grip on his wallet in some of the seedier parts of San Paulo. If you want local flavour, the title track is sung for the most part in Portugese. Your guess is probably better than mine as to what Inocentes singer Clemente is singing as guest vocalist, but it sounds OK.
For a while the Vanilla Chainsaws (in retrospect) shaped as worthy contenders on a very crowded Australian scene. That they didn't probably came down to a lot of things, but you have to wonder if Simon hadn't caught the travel bug that his profile in his home country might not be higher. No problem. Get in on one of the best kept secrets and give this a spin. (While you're at it, snap up the Chainsaw Men disc he churned out with ex-Gamma Men drummer Steve Gardner in San Diego too a few years ago. It' cheap as chips in our store or from NKVD.) - The Barman
TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR