Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Oblivians - Desperation

One of the absolute best bands of the mid-90s garage punk scene, Oblivians have here, on In The Red Records, their first album in 15 years, and they still got that stomp, still got that dirt, but they are a little more restrained, a little smoother, they haven't got that wild holler of Cannonball and they're half a rockin world away from the colossally rumdrunk blastblues of AAAA Thee New Memphis Legs, but they can still write a way sweet rock and roll song. Punx reunion material can end up being good (American Steel's Destroy Their Future), the bad (post-Danzig Misfts) and the so horrible and aesthetically, philosophically and morally unacceptable that everyone involved should've died fucking young to spare us all (Dead Kennedys reworking MTV Get Off the Air as MP3 Get Off the Web). It can deal with stuff in a few ways too, it can pretend that not a single day has passed, and that can go well, but often it goes fairly badly, the ridiculousness of a band all the more apparent when 40 year olds not twentysomethings do it, it can moan about like a tedious old man, angry now at exactly the thing it was in the first place when it was angry at the thing it is now (the attitude exemplified by most interviewees in every single punk doc interviewing old punx), or it can retain the struggle that defined the band at first, but approach it from a slightly different angle, without devaluing their original stuff, and also without retreading it too much. Which is what Oblivians manage to do here, everything's in place but there's nothing as unhinged or perfectly broken as Bad Man, but then they're also thankfully old enough to know that using the n-word in a song title is just the dumbest dumbest shit ever.

The very first song acknowledges their ageing, I'll Be Gone "Let's rock & roll as we get old/We will before too long.", the fuzz feels warm, not abrasive, enveloping everything but not kicking it to pieces, the song frayed around the edges. "I won't have to watch/Cos baby I'll be gone."

The two sides of a crazy night out in two songs early in the album. The dry shimmy of Woke Up in a Police Car, "Woke up in a police car wuuuh-oh/Handcuffs cut into my arms wuuh-oh." The wuuh-oh a deadpan kicker on each line, not wailing or soaring, just sitting there like punctuation, head in your hands as we hear the clang of jail doors. But then just when you think that it's clambered up in Murtaughian resignation, too old for this shit. Straight after it, like an elliptical narrative, the dirty rock and roll shake of Call the Police, all swagger and relentless organ riffs (provided by Mr Quintron) "You better call your wife/Call your bossman/We ain't never going home/Call the po-lice, call the po-lice/We gonna get our drinks on". Stuck after Woke Up in Police Car rather than before it lifts you up from the drunk tank blues and throws you back out on the wild streets in a dirty rock and roll shake, slathered in engine grime.

Despite being a mostly inactive band for over a decade, the members of the Oblivians have not been idle, they've been involved in The Reigning Sound, True Sons of Thunder, The Legs, Bad Times, South Filthy, The Compulsive Gamblers, Knaughty Knights, the Tennessee Tearjerks and more. Moving onwards to the next project without hesitation, like the prolific filmmaking of Johnnie To, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or Takashi Miike. New work is the best work. Get something out then get something else out. Do not wallow. There's been constant work, an ongoing exploration of rock and roll's dirty corners with a work ethic that would put anyone not named Billy Childish to shame and that all comes together here.

So each song has its own slightly different feel, drawing from a different little bit of the punk/rock/blues spectrum, there's Pinball King's schoolyard chant, a defiant teenage dream that charms in its obvious failure bent. The skifflish kick of Loving Cup. Run For Cover's rolling train feel, an onwards thrust like a lo-fi sloppy take on Overkill or Kriegshog's Burn. Fire Detector got a 77 punk feel, the inane metaphors the Damned's Love Song ("SHE MISTOOK ME FOR A FIRE DETECTOR!") sleazed up. The wail of Oblivion (OBLIVION! THEY CAN'T GO ON PRETENDING LIKE THEY DON'T KNOW HOW TO SPELL IT ANYMORE!). The relentless prod of Come A Little Closer, another dancefloor story. The bedraggled blues of Back Street Hangouts. The handclaps and bounce of Desperation. "She leaves me... IN DESPERATION!"

Mama Guitar is maybe as close in feel to their oldest stuff as is this gets, the guitar-scrape dragged under by the throbbing bass. The time where the slop and fuzz seems less warm, more oppressively inept, as the flat drums pound on and the guitar solo dances about in the underbelly of the song. It's where the album really goes from warmth to nastiness, right at the end, finally abandoning to snap back once more into that backyard rock and roller fighting pose, a cover of an old rock and roll song destroyed as it's paid tribute to.

This is an album of love and loss, fire and ashes, parties and hangover. It's an album of consequences. Dancing approximations, purposeful waggle and puling shuffle sliding into each other. A drunken party dancefloor finishes and becomes a damaged morning-after slide but you can't really draw the line between them that clearly, the hands in hands and bodies pressed together as the band played another killer has got the sorrowful knowledge of tomorrow's aches in the kisses and steps, the wounded stumbling of the next day has got the smile and joy of last night's last dance present in its parts. The poetics and mechanics of each movement blurrin into one another, footprints cut across one another, hurt in the freedom of dance and healing joy.

Like on Em, a love song that seems more about knowledge and acceptance than a rush of feeling. It's about lives intersecting, but not colliding and exploding, just shaping each other slightly and moving on. There's pain but there are also friends. There is anguish but we're not alone. There is an end but it is not the end. "Life can be so underhanded/Sometimes I can hardly stand it/The day is dark but the sun's gonna shine again/When I think about you, Em!"

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