Apr 9, 2007

the LARKSMEN s/t LP

Outside of the standards y'all hear on the "Good Times-Great Oldies" type stations and some records I liberated from my folks collections as grade schooler my first real lessons in, for the lack of a better term, 60's garage rock came when I was 16 years old thanks a show called "Psychotic Reaction" that aired on our local community college radio station. I imagined the host, "the Electric Outsider", with his cool, hipster-like banter and slew of tunes I never heard before as some guy my folks age who was "keeping it real" instead of denying that they once had fun and we're "cool." I pictured the studio having 100's of 45's splayed all over the studio as the guy eyed them up waiting for the spontaneous inspiration of what to play next but not someone who was stuck in the past cuz he'd play the occasional song by the Cramps, or the Jam along with some of the "Paisley Underground" stuff that was going on at the time. I pictured Beatles boots, Andrew Loog Oldham shades, shag haircuts, the smell of espresso, rye whiskey (I didn't know much about whiskey at the time really 'cept my grandpa preferred rye) and a little grass in the air. One evening he was on I was doing a little shopping downtown (this is still when we had still places that 16 year olds would shop downtown not to mention places other than bars that were open past 5 pm there) I had over an hour til the last bus north so I ambled over to the campus into the building that housed the station in hopes that I could shake hands with the guy and thank him for turning me on to the "roots of the shit I'm into." I knock on the door and a guy feathered hair about 4 years older than me, dressed in Dockers & a pastel colored polo shirt answers the door. "Hi, my name is Dale" I tell him "I just wanna thank the Electric Outsider for his cool show and maybe shake hands with the man."
"It's nice to know someone is even listening" he says as he extends his hand "My name is Mike. You wanna come in a see where it all happens."
I assumed that Mike is his assistant and he's gonna introduce me to the dude that's got "two hours time to blow your mind."
"Yeah. That would be cool."
Walking down the hall I picture more things. Maybe some cute girl in white boots and a Jeanie Shrimpton haircut sitting on a chair with her legs crossed adding some sassy inspiration to the festivities. Maybe a strobe light...At least a black light illuminating all the stacks of records the host was pulling out and putting on the air.
We get into the booth and it's lit like any other room is in an institutional building. Regular fluorescent tubes overhead. There were a few records out but it was a cassette that was going over the air. No one else was in the studio. I start to ask Mike a question but he interrupts "Hang on for about 3 minutes" then sits in on the stool behind the mic. I start to think that maybe there's a second studio where the Electric Outsider does his gig and Mike's gonna check with him to see if it's okay for me to meet him.
Nope!
He throws the switch on and the somewhat reedy speaking voice he had while talking to me dropped an octave as he everything he said was read off a note card he was holding in his right hand. I know I let my imagination run a little bit wild but was really, really bummed out when I saw what was behind the curtain. I learned that the Electric Outsider went away to a 4 year university but wasn't quite ready for it so moved back home into his folks house to "start the higher education thing back at square one." While away he taped a lot of stuff off their radio station and the music from them made up about 75% of his show as well as a lot of the stuff he'd say on the radio borrowed form the original programs hosts.
Forward ahead about 20 years. Rhino releases "the Children Of Nuggets" box. I had no plan on buying it but wanted to see the song list so I headed over to the local big box store (cuz that's all we have around here anymore) to get a gander. Who do I see grabbing on off the shelf with nothing more than a glance and heading straight to the cash register? You guessed it..."the Electric Outsider". His feathered hair much more thinner, the waist line in the Dockers much more wider...the pastel polo was replaced with a button down color denim job though. I started to peruse what the "experts" picked to go on the box. It didn't take long for my eyebrows to start rolling. "If a person was deeply interested in checking this stuff out" I thought "How many would be dissappointed after dropping 60 bucks on this?" Then I thought about Mike and if he had still had a show he'd probably play a disc of this each show...either that or he'd tape the Underground Garage weekly syndicated show and just dub his voice over whatever "cool" chat Little Steven said in a word for word tribute. If nothing else he would recite the liner notes about whichever songs he played that week.
"So where does all this lead up to the Larksmen?" you ask.
Hang on! I'm getting to it.
It took me a couple of years after my first visit to that college station to first hear things like the Sonics and the Pretty Things and a couple of years after that before I really had a chance to stumble across the Pebbles, Back From The Grave etc collections but once I did it planted all kinds of wild seeds in my head. Because of that one of the most defining factors of "garage rock", to me, is a wild abandon. It's gotta stomp! Hell, You're fuck ups! Don't hide it and let it blare, spew and howl. Sure, things like the Knickerbockers and the Castaways are cute and catchy (and sound cool when you hear them on the oldies station but even that's a rare occasion anymore cuz a handful of Motown hits, 8 Beatles songs and maybe 4 from the Stones constitute a certain segement of the playlist cuz they gotta make room for crap like Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" these days) but I wanna hear teenage blues! I wanna hear lust & desperation! I wanna hear instruments bought out of a Christmas wishbook or purchased on a payment plan at the local music store! I wanna hear voices grunt, scream, bellow and croon! This is where the Larksmen lose me. They're good players and know how to put a song together but they lack at some kinda grit.
Maybe it's like the Woogles curse where ya gotta see them live to "get it."
Maybe it's the way the singer sounds.
Too much attempted British affections, crooning and 2nd tiered 80's garage rock revival band (and for the most part the majority of the first tier bands from that "scene" weren't all that super awesome either) emoting...not enough (hardly any actually) wailing and grunting!
It sounds like they're really into what they are doing but at the same time just don't "get it."
Sean Bonniwell does the vocals on two tracks though. He almost saves the day in that department. I won't bag on him-After all he was in the Music Machine. He could sound creepy and degenerate up with the best of 'em but that was 40 years ago. He can still cut it as a bluesy rock singing legend these days and if I could get him to sing on a record I was doing I wouldn't say no (cuz like this band I would be sure to let everyone with a passing interest know that he was on the record) but the regular singer should go back and listen to the old Music Machine records for ideas on how to deliver a lyric so on occasions like the other evening when I played this record while I was having a beer with a couple of friends one of them won't say "Is this Smashmouth on some kind of garage rock tribute CD?"

2 comments:

carson said...

This has got to be one of the worst albums ever. Stop beibng so nice and vague when you think something sucks

frank j said...

if you don't get it, you won't. the main vocals are done by the bands front man, eric who never was a vocalist. he took a few singing lessons to make the lp. he wuold be the first to say that he sucks, and the songs are a reflection of his life not a reflection of his refined vocals or lack of. i get it.