Agony Shorthand

Monday, June 28, 2004

Ask any “real rocker” around about DMZ, and it’ll be near-unanimous: these 1976-78 Boston-based longhaired punks were rockandroll incarnate, guitar-fueled Beantown badasses who took the best of 60s garage chops from The Sonics and their ilk and channeled it into some cranked-up, raw, ornery 70s punk-tinged hard rock. It’s quite a statement, this claim from the real rockers. I decided to do a little field research to test said hypothesis, one I’ve in fact posited myself on occasion. The study was conducted with DMZ’s complete vinyl discography, which I burned to a couple of CD-Rs a few weekends back. The results came back – I’m afraid to say – negative. The confidence interval is high, the margin of error nonexistent. Sorry, DMZ. Allow me to explain.

See, if one just heard that incredible first 1976 DMZ 45, “First Time Is The Best Time / Teenage Head” and then called it a day with the band, it’s fine. That record cannot be touched – one of the premier obnoxo-punk records of any era, with some of the worst/best deflowering come-on lines ever, and a killer fake retch in the first two seconds. Absolute genius. But after that? I always thought I liked their debut 1978 LP on Sire, even pimped for last year’s reissue on this very site. Trouble was, I hadn’t really heard it in years, and I think I mixed up a love for one of the tracks on there (“Don’t Jump Me Mother”, a chugging piece of tough guy riff rawk) with a swelling admiration for the whole package. It has its moments to be sure, but what I hear now is a lot of posturing, bozo bar band rockitude, mitigated only slightly by a reverence for all things 60s Pacific Northwest (with mediocre WAILERS and SONICS covers on board). Production is this off-putting attempt to take what was probably a rip-it-up live band (though the live records I had are actually a bit dull and repetitive too) and get them some FM airplay – so the album’s got a lot of vocal echoes, heavily miked drums and a thin sound in parts that blunts the overall impact. Their second single, a four-song 7”EP called “Lift Up Your Hood”, isn’t much better, and includes an absolutely sacrilegious slandering of “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.

The place to go for these guys, if you’re so inclined, is probably an LP that Crypt put out in the early 90s called “Demos/Live 1976-77” – it has the godhead first 45 and a few terrific live tracks (“Boy From Nowhere”, “Ball Me Out”, a Pretty Things cover) that at least make up for the middling gruel that blankets the rest of the record. I’m just as guilty as anybody for pumping these guys past their true place on the rock and roll hypeometer, but hey, as they say: live and learn.