YOU ONLY GET ONE SHOT AT THE BIG TIME: OBSCURE POWERPOP & PUNK 1979-1985 - Various Artists (Wizzard in Vinyl)
Here's a tribute to the long departed, those brave or misguided fools that spun the wheel and lost or simply hung in, lurking between the cracks, knowing that they had no hope of (or in many cases desire to) nail The Big S for Success.
This compilation on CD on Japan's Wizzard in Vinyl label, put together by afficianado Keith Dagger, shows off five bands from various North American punk scenes of the '80s. It's often good, sometimes great. Odds are that the names of the bands will ring no bell (or a distant one if you were there - and you can still recall) but much of the music they played will strike a chord, especially if you're into the mellow end of the spectrum defined as the Killed By Death school of punk.
They're less hard-edged than most KBD stuff and M 80's from Hartford, CT, are the closest this collection gets to punk-pop. Step up/step down dual lead vocals ("Treeble") and phased guitar ("Walking On the Moon") show a band not restricting itself to any preconceived rules, but still keeping a healthy sense of rawness. Most of these recordings are rudimentary studio efforts, by the way, released on tiny, one-shot labels, but the way. Which is how it should sound.
L.A.'s The Blackjax sound more like the Zeros than Black Flag or the other hardcore bands that subsumed the '80s scene in that city. "Growing Pains" sucks you in with a poppy intro and then turns into the Clash. The Blackjax' five songs are a personal fave here.
Fort Worth band The Ejectors show a fine streak of ridiculousness with Pistols paybacks like the sneering "Little Johnny", which musically channels Chuck Berry via Steve Jones, and the trash TV-inspired "George Jetson". No prizes who "Napalm Hop-Slam Dance" pays homage to. That lead singer's warble is uncanny in its recollection of one departed Brudda. Derivative, although not slavishly so, and pretty cool.
Zellots hail from London (Ontario, Canada - not England) come on all Wire-y with spidery guitar lines and whiney vocals. Their three songs are out of kilter with the rest and are almost post-punk in structure.
It's up to another Hartford band The Sterics to close things down and it's a pity the collection winds up with a whimper rather than a bang. The Sterics' tempos drag over their trio of tunes and "If You See Kay" is proof that a clever title doesn't make a great song.
It's lavishly packaged with a thick booklet full of scattered reminiscences in first-hand accounts. Worthy of pursuit and a collection that holds up under constant plays.
– The Barman
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