Various Artists - Kris Needs Presents... Dirty Water: The Birth of Punk Attitude - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - Kris Needs Presents... Dirty Water: The Birth of Punk Attitude

by Al Brown Rating:6 Release Date:2010-12-06

This is not the first compilation to try and roadmap the definitive roots and evolution of punk, and it surely won't be the last. The exercise still holds some interest simply because everyone's definition of punk differs slightly - ask any group of musos what the first punk song was and you'll likely get a different answer from each one, as well as a lengthy sermon justifying the choice.

The first couple of tracks here are the kind of bluesy garage rock that is very cool to like, but ultimately you may as well listen to a Rolling Stones b-sides compilation. 'Dirty Water' by The Standells is as muddy and unremarkable it's title, and 'Evil Hoodoo' by The Seeds is equally dull, although The Seeds at least produced one stone-cold classic ('Can't Seem to Make You Mine', definitely the best song ever to appear on a Lynx advert). 'Garbage' by The Deviants stands out thanks to some hilarious lyrics ("Garbage is so good for you! ... Why don't you fondle it?/ Why don't you suck it?") and a completely acid-fried a capella middle eight.

After four tracks from fairly similar late-60s/early-70s garage bands we take a brief detour for Gene Vincent's 'Bluejean Bop', a 50s rock'n'roll standard, but (dare I say it) not a very good one. Then it's back to the 70s for 'Teenage Head' by The Flamin' Groovies, another blues/garage/drugs number that isn't a patch on their later, more famous work (compare it to 'Slow Death', even their new wave breakthrough 'Shake Some Action').

If the test of a good compilation is whether they manage to avoid using live cuts for licensing reasons then this one fails. We get a mediocre, over-long live version of (among others) T Rex's 'Elemental Child', and an even longer (and muddy-as-hell) version of The Stooges' 'Do You Want My Love?' on the first disc, although the second disc is all studio tracks. To be fair the live version of 'Rocket Reducer No 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)' is as visceral as you would expect from the MC5, even if the sound level is inconsistent.

Another criticism: I can't help thinking some of these tracks have more in common with the macho guitar rock that punk set out to replace than punk itself, for example the boring pub-rock of Jook, or the dirgey 'Moon Upstairs' by Mott the Hoople. The grinding, repetitive stoner-garage of The Monks and the zany glam-punk of Zolar X are also unwelcome crashers in this party. Zolar X are interesting in that you can see similarities between them and The Rezillos, but The Rezillos had the good grace to refine that wacky schtick 'til they weren't annoying, unlike these space-geeks. And I know The Monks are one of those bands that you're supposed to like if you're cool but I'm not buying it: they bore me shitless.

It's left to Sun Ra and Death to up the batting average on disc one: Sun Ra's 'Rocket Number Nine' is wickedly oddball, featuring jazz drumming, overlapping voices and the sound of a fishing reel winding in: disparate yet fulfilling. The sparse proto-punk of Death's 'Politicians in My Eyes' is a winner even without the knowledge that they were true trailblazers: an Afro-American band on an otherwise totally white scene.

Disc two starts with the proto-anti-folk of 'Up Against the Wall' by David Peel & The Lower East Side, a mariachi-inspired Fugs-esque chant, whose sole lyric is "Up against the wall, Motherfucker!" 'Confusion' by Silver Apples is a sketchy, drug-streaked banjo freakout: kind of fun, but very of its time. If nothing else these tracks make the point that while the punks and hippies may have had opposing ideologies, they had quite a lot in common musically.

Disc two's 50s pick is 'Get a Job' by black doo-wop group The Silhouettes (yes, a black group called The Silhouettes), which is a great little tune with fairly 'punk' sentiments regarding authority and fitting in, I guess. Next up the lustful, minimal 'Do it Nice' by Suicide, 'Subway Train' by The New York Dolls and the beat poetry/proto-rap of 'On the Subway' by The Last Poets: three great reminders (as if any were needed) of just how diverse and innovative the NYC scene of the 70s was. 'On the Subway', with its furious meditations on slavery set to the sounds of an everyday subway journey, is particularly striking.

'The Hot City Symphony Part 1 (Vambo)' by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band sounds like a Led Zeppelin b-side (bad) while 'A Little Bit of Urban Rock' by Third World War sounds like the New York Dolls (good). 'Nadir's Big Chance' by Peter Hammill is equally influenced by British glam and the tougher NYC sound of the Dolls - it's a pretty cool track. 'Outside My Door' by CAN is one of their more straightforward rock numbers, at times sounding like a cross between The Doors and The Fall.

The dirty Ohio blues-punk of Rocket from the Tombs still feels fairly vital but maybe that's just because it's an oft-imitated sound (particularly in the last decade) and few truly nail it. 'Teengenerate' by The Dictators is a real doozy: classic smartass rock'n'roll in that Velvets/Ramones/Television lineage. It's kind of surprising that we have to wait until the last track for some reggae, but the Rastafari anthem, 'Two Sevens' by Culture fills the hole nicely, combining everyday images of housing projects and bus journeys with tributes to Marcus Garvey.

This compilation has a broader scope than most of its ilk, paying its dues to rock'n'roll, psych, and reggae as well as the immediate (and obvious) predecessors to the 1977 punk explosion (garage rock and Velvets imitators). It could be described as an odds and ends of under-appreciated bands and tracks rather than a definitive pre-history of punk. And there are some real gems here, although equally it's easy to see exactly why some of these bands have been forgotten.

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