VARMINTS 1989-97 - The Varmints (Endora's Box)
Mention the name Billy Borgioli and certain canny folks will go all misty-eyed. John Fellice might have been the focal point but Billy was also a vital member of Boston's Real Kids, the punkish '70s and '80s powerpop combo still spoken about in reverent tones by diehard fans (among them ex-Dog Meat Records honcho Dave Laing who must have penned the ultimate piece on them in Ugly Things a few years ago). But I digress. After forming the Classic Ruins and a brief spell in the (re-formed) 1990s Real Kids, Billy Borgioli now plays in The Varmints and this is their debut long player.
The Real Kids might not have not topped my personal hit parade back in the '80s but I was pretty pre-occupied with similar music in my own backyard. There's no doubting their influence in their home country with bands that counted, as well as with some significant Aussie acts, The Eastern Dark most prominent among them. The Real Kids played a tough but melodic brand of garage rock that, along with the likes of DMZ, dominated Boston's underground scene, seeped into CBGBs and made inroads into Europe. By all accounts, Borgioli mined a similar musical vein when he formed the Classic Ruins (and bandmate Frank Rowe joins him on guitar for much of this album.)
The Varmints, not surprisingly, have a healthy dose of Real Kids in them. Just as Borgioli and Fellice bounced off each other on guitar on that classic debut album, Rowe plays a handy counterpoint to Billy's often fiery lead fretwork. Culled from studio cuts and some radio live-to-airs, "Assorted Varmints" sounds suitably sharp in the production department, eschewing fancy tricks for a live feel. But whereas the best Real Kids songs were swathed in pop smarts, The Varmints have significantly fewer pop hooks to reel you in.
Borgioli's occasionally samey vocals could so with some support to mix things up and leaven the mix. There are some good songs to be had with the Kinksian "Black Out", "The Hard Way", Aint No Good" and "Dreamin' " the pick of them, and this is the work of a gritty pub band. That said, they'd be welcome at my local any Saturday night, and this is streets ahead of that sloppy DMZ reunion live album that Bomp put out.
Worth checking out, just don't expect to be floored.
- The Barman
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