Agony Shorthand

Tuesday, March 25, 2003
JUKEBOX JURY, ROUND TWO....It's time again to revisit some of those rock and roll heroes and mistakes of yesteryear, 1985-89, my -- and perhaps your -- college days, and find out if they still hold up. If you missed our first installment, in which we put Killdozer, the Laughing Hyenas, Pussy Galore, The Fluid and Scratch Acid to the test, you can find it here (or just scroll down). As I mentioned last time, the ground rules are as follows:

"Just as in our criminal justice system, these musicians will be judged either INNOCENT or GUILTY. If Innocent, they have successfully stood the ravages and judgment of time, and their music still sounds good to this day – not a small matter when the original jury was 18-19 years old. If they’re deemed Guilty, these bands are already being judged harshly by history, and will likely be wholly forgotten when the college students who bought their records in the 80s slowly begin to die off".

Let's meet our potential victims!


1. LAZY COWGIRLS -- The Lazy Cowgirls were as close to a #1 favorite band as I had in 1985-89, and because I endured school in Southern California, weekends were often spent in LA watching them play the Anti-Club or Raji's. It's a no-brainer -- go back and listen to Tapping The Source or How It Looks, How It Is and you'll hear the best of that generation's punk rock bands. Ultra raw, amped up, garage-based punk with a pack of killer influences (Saints, NY Dolls, early R&B and -- wait for it -- the Shit Dogs). Easy call. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? INNOCENT.

2. DINOSAUR JR. -- Or, as they were then known, DINOSAUR. When their first self-titled LP came out on Homestead, it was sort of a non-event. Some good songs, some mediocre production -- some true promise, we all reckoned. When the second one, You're Living All Over Me, hit in 1987, good lord, there were holy hosannas and dancing and untold sacraments offered to the godz for giving us this fantastic, best-of-the-year record. Supposedly the loudest band on earth when this one was unleashed, I didn't even get to see them play until the following year and they were, well -- to put it politely -- a real shitty live band, at least in Southern California in 1988. But that LP finds a way to get played every year in my house, and it's still a goddamn over-the-top corker. Every track stands up; it's a roaring wall of sound, with some of the most inspired freak-out guitar playing and overall heavy hitting that you'll ever hear, as well as anthemic "pop" songs ("Little Fury Things", "In A Jar") that had 19-year-olds all over the world pumping their fists. If this was indeed the template for indie rock/noise, well so much the better. All their efforts after this one fell short; in fact I think that the follow-up, Bug, was so tepid that I'd already pretty much given up on the band only two years after their masterpiece. Others weren't as quick to squander the goodwill as I. On the basis of "You're Living All Over Me" alone, I'd render a JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT: Still INNOCENT!

3. SPACEMEN 3 -- Droning, plodding, drugged-out psychedelic rock and roll from the UK, featuring band members who shot heroin and parked their cans in chairs while they played. Some excellent LPs and EPs: "Sound of Confusion", "Walking With Jesus", "Transparent Radiation", "The Perfect Prescription". Every now and again I'll hear some new band, often British, and their sound will be fully copped from the Spacemen 3's distinct repertoire. I checked the records out again this past week -- they hold up! JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Can't we find anyone guilty around here? INNOCENT.

4. NAKED RAYGUN – This Chicago group were among my favorite bands in my late teens and early 20s, particularly the attacking robo-punk snarl of the Throb Throb LP, which came out just prior to the time period we’re discussing here. I entered my school days to the release of their second record All Rise on Homestead, known to me still as the album with that great storming-out-of-the-gates kick-off track “Home of the Brave”, and then…..? Hmm, after that song it’s a pretty thin gruel, and don’t even get me started on the subsequent lite sing-along punk stuff that followed (“Vanilla Blue”? Check please!), although I do seem to remember a pretty good Stiff Little Fingers cover. I sure dug it then, even took a packed carload of people up to San Luis Obispo, CA to see them (“you guys are going to love Naked Raygun, really”) only to have them totally crap out and make me severely lose face in front of my friends. Definitely a band that sounds pretty top-drawer when you’re young and get those crazy ideas in your head about what’s good, but, you know kids, the Bullshit Detector really starts to ripen when you get to my advanced age. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? Time can only work against our boys from the Windy City, I’m afraid. GUILTY.

5. SOUL ASYLUM – This one will be painful, though it’s probably a quick call for most of you. “Soul Asylum? Those guys totally blew!”. Ah, but they didn’t…..or did they? In 1985-87, they were a far different band than the ones who brokered a big major label deal, flew the flannel on MTV, opened for Keith Richards or whatever, and got their songs on Buffy The Vampire Slayer & the like. Nay, nay, the early Soul Asylum were made known to me by those first three wild-rocking LPs: Say What You Will, Made To Be Broken and While You Were Out. I always argued that these guys were the superior Minneapolis punk-influenced pop band, better than Husker Du and light years better than The Replacements. I might even still argue it today. Because I haven’t listened to them in years, in order to render a verdict I had to light a candle, put on my Converse All-Stars and have a solo listening party. There are some really good, tough-sounding, well-crafted rock and roll numbers spread amongst these – the 45 “Tied To The Tracks”, “Lap of Luxury”, “Closer To The Stars”, “Religivision” (so 80s!) and “Freaks”, to begin with. Soul Asylum knew how to cleverly write what became a branch of the prototypical indie rock song tree, and very often they cranked it up and played it fast (they actually started life as a harcore band). But these records are also clogged with wistful, overly sentimental numbers that sound like the then-indie equivalent of the power ballad – before they started writing Springsteen-style arena-style power ballads for real. An honest-to-god sellout straight out of central casting was right around the corner, and we just didn’t even see it coming! The good stuff is still pretty good, just not as good, and the bad stuff – well, it’s really kind of awful. JUKE BOX JURY VERDICT? * Sigh * Youth be gone! GUILTY.

Come back next time when we subpoena Halo of Flies, Die Kruezen, the Butthole Surfers and more for their big day before the Juke Box Jury!!