Agony Shorthand

Friday, November 12, 2004

Time marches, bellies extend, joints stiffen and responsibilities mount, but one thing remains constant: that 1984 TALES OF TERROR LP is one fucking incredible long-haired punk rock & roll record! These alcoholic Sacramento-rooted bastard sons of ELVIS, THE STOOGES and BLACK SABBATH have aged very well with the passage of the years, and when I plopped on their one and only LP this past week for a couple of spins, it blew me away -- again, as it always has. GREEN RIVER? Loved 'em, but their bombastic guitar & drum roaring never held a candle to this revved-up record, as even Mark Arm would likely admit (they covered this record's "Ozzy" on their "Dry As A Bone" EP in homage). This record almost perfectly arrives at the nexus of early 80s hardcore punk and heavy 70s glam, adding a small dollop of 45 GRAVE or MISFITS-style horror imagery which thankfully doesn't mess up the sound one bit. 45 Grave and The Misfits, bless them both, unfortunately let the spooky goth-vibes seep into their music, employing creepy echoes, ridiculous "ghastly voices from the beyond" and annoying witch-like cackling far too often. Both bands ruled, but it's hard to listen without switching a judgmental, BS-detecting, post-teenage portion of the brain completely off. Not so with these guys. I used to see "Tales of Terror" spray-painted in men's bathrooms across the San Francisco Bay Area (especially in bars as I got older), but the dumb-ass mohawk punks in my high school -- the ones who regularly made it up to SF for shows, unlike me -- just hated them, almost as much as they hated FLIPPER. Loved by the drunks, loathed by the Dead Kennedys-loving high school alternajerks. Draw your own conclusions.

Out of the gates this record is fast, loose and full of swaggering, liquid courage. Two lead guitarists, neither of whom shies from firing off a "fiery" but non-obnoxious lead from time to time, usually over a near-hardcore tempo ("13" and "Deathryder"). The track that everyone loved at my college radio station was "Over Elvis Worship", about how the spirit of Elvis inhabits singer Rat's Ass thanks to a well-placed tatoo of the King "down on (his) cock". As if. But that track -- and all of Side 2 -- is just incredible raw, blazing and bleary-eyed fun rock and roll. I've always been partial to "Romance", the lead track on Side 2, which is to me the template song for my made-up category of long-haired punk. Some great fake names for these guys, too -- well, "Rat's Ass" and "Dusty Coffin" aren't that hot, but what about "Captain Trip Mender" and "Thopper Jaw"? Whoa. There are rumors circulating that CD Presents, who originally put out this LP, are thinking about gathering the tracks and throwing them out there again on compact disc. This is an exciting event, but tempered by the fact that I've never read a thing about CD Presents that didn't present the guy behind the label as an out-and-out crook, loathed by just about every band who ever recorded for him. I know there are some peeps in the audience who saw this band a bunch, and I hope you'll weigh in posthaste on the majesty that was Tales of Terror.