Monday, February 22, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #3: Screaming Blue Messiahs - Gun-Shy

We spend so much of our time buying, selling and listening to the latest releases that we sometimes forget to plumb the depths. Every one of us here got in to record store thing, at some level, because we have a deep interest and curiosity about all kinds of music. Most of us are collectors to some degree or another, and one of the abiding joys of collecting is to pull out the rare, beautiful, little known or downright obscure album and turn on a friend. Sometimes it's a classic that needs to be shined up and put back on the top shelf. With that in mind we are going to revive a column we used to include in our newsletters called, appropriately enough, I'd Love To Turn You On. This will give our super collectors and musical academicians to wax poetic about their favorite albums (or movie or book for that matter).

Some Rock n Roll bands are a given, a fixture. They are ensconced in your older brother's record collection. They pose, grinning, holding framed gold records. They sport sunglasses on the covers of music magazines. Then there are bands you see coming over the pop culture horizon. They take on familiar shapes, they are musically amiable. Another link in the chain of pop trendiness. But...sometimes a Rock n Roll band comes out of the blue. They jump up fully formed, Athena-like, out of the Rock God's head. The Screaming Blue Messiahs were just such a band.

Of course they came from somewhere. The Messiahs' background was specifically London, circa Pub Rock o'clock. But Gun-Shy was the 1986 debut LP, long out of print, but now reinstated courtesy of the Wounded Bird label. And what a debut! You would be hard pressed to find another first release sporting as much weird wit and power. Gun-Shy is one of those records that simply gets down to hemming nor hawing about.

First track “Wild Blue Yonder” is a pretty good indication of what the group is all about. Bill Carter's guitar sports a nagging, ragged riff, Kenny Harris plays his drums wildly loose-limbed behind Chris Thompson's rumbling bass line. What really grabs your attention, though, is Carter's half menacing, half comic vocal. You can hear similarities to Joe Strummer, but he is definitely one of those Rock front men who are a unique presence, driving the band by force of personality. The Messiahs were a loud, aggressive band, but the stoic, bald Carter dominated all proceedings.

Several Gun-Shy tracks display a rockabilly influence (albeit warped), coupled with Carter's Americana lyrical fixations. On the sole cover, they soak Hank Williams' “You're Gonna Change” in reverb. Raucous tunes “President Kennedy's Mile” and “Twin Cadillac Valentine” invoke a brew of cultural tropes; guns, cars and biblical wrath. Elsewhere, as on “Smash the Market Place,” the Messiahs’ stellar rhythm section make the rock downright danceable, not unlike mid-period Clash. On paper, I fear all these different elements - pop, dance, punk, twang, hard rock - sound of a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. Trust me though, on Gun-Shy (and the equally great subsequent albums Bikini Red and Totally Religious) The Screaming Blue Messiahs created potently exciting Rock music.

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