TREAT ME BAD! - The Amazing Washington Dead Cats (PIAS)
Based on the cover art of The Amazing Washington Dead Cats' (known from this point on as TAWDC because I'm too lazy to type the whole thing out) "Treat Me Bad" alone, it's certainly understandable if you thought you'd stumbled across a new Cramps album.
Guitarist Lord Fester Beltran looks like a light bulb in a black motorcycle jacket holding a red Gretsch, the bass player (or is that just a stick with a rope tied to each end?) sports silver facepaint and a black mohawk, and members of the Devil Deluxe horn section resemble extras from "I Walked With A Zombie" or "Death Curse Of Tartu." Depending on your fashion sense, most chilling of all may be singer Mat Firehair, normal looking save for a loud Hawaiian shirt. The bio on their website makes no mention of any of the other band members' names, but the answer to that mystery may lie in their press kit, which the Barman claims is the size of a phonebook.
But that's where the similarities between TAWDC and The Cramps come to an abrupt end. Sure, "Crazy When I Hear That Beat" kicks off with a sinister sounding rockabilly riff from Beltran that Poison Ivy would be proud to claim as her own and Firehair sounds like a slightly less unhinged Lux Interior, but the horn section (trumpet, trombone, and sax) plays most of
the main riffs instead of Beltran. Rockabilly horns? Hold on a minute - it only gets stranger...
As a Yank, it's probably my duty to blame TAWDC's eccentricities on their homeland (France), but for once in my life I'll take the high road. Just don't bring up the idiot in Paris who ran over Stiv Bators, although to Stiv's credit, he managed to crawl home before checking out. But I digress. Admittedly, these cats (pun intended) are madly talented, bordering on (dare I say?) coldly professional, although at times their creative psyche can go slightly awry. On those rare occasions when the horn section surrenders the spotlight to Beltran, as on "Waikiki Bay (Johnny Don't Go Surfin')," he displays a smartalecky, rumbling sense of rhythm and a twangy soloing style comprised of equal parts Link Wray and
Eddie Cochran. And although those pesky horns do their best to upstage him on "Le Diable En Personne" (actually "Shakin' All Over" sung in French), Beltran fights them to at least a draw with a series of solos that would make Johnny Kidd proud.
Beginning with "Mexican Wrestler," however, things turn decidedly more bizarre when Firehair waxes poetic about a grappler from south of the border over a backing track straight out of an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack. "Number Six" is an instrumental which mixes Beltran's best Duane Eddy and Dick Dale stylings with a burst of dissonant yowling from Firehair. "Under The Coconut Trees" is a quiet, shimmering Hawaiian ditty with Firehair crooning in a creepy near whisper that will make you want to lock up the kids.
And just when you think these guys have exhausted everything in their bag of tricks, they unveil a reverb-laden tango in "El Senor Igor."
The closest TAWDC get to what might be considered "conventional" rockabilly or surf are "Devil In High Heels" and "Juju (Wowow)," but mere seconds into both, the horns overpower Beltran yet again. Same thing with the certified punk grind of album closer "Blue Surfin' Girl." Something tells me there's no French translation for the word "overkill."
There's no denying TAWDC can play, and having been around for almost 20 years, it's obvious they've picked up a trick or two. Pat Lazareff's production may have too many slick surfaces for Barflies accustomed to three chords and the smell of ozone and if you think horns have about as much place on a rock and roll album as say, a string section, steer clear. Beltran, a walking reference book on surf, rockabilly, twang, and reverb, is a lost treasure, though, and deserves a chance to shine without those horns constantly crawling up his arse.- Clark Paull
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