Big Time Bums
A Kick in the Gulags - The Dry Retch (Stalingrad Records)
A six-song EP with five of the tracks being Stooges songs never committed to tape in a studio? What are we gonna say if they're done well?
The Dry Retch come from Liverpool in the UK and they ain’t The Beatles. They are two guitars, a kicking engine room and a truckload of dirt. They are committed Stooge-ophiles (a previous line-up released an EP with the title “Plays The Stooges”.)
Principal member John Retch (vocal and guitar) grew up in Australia where he was exposed to high-energy sounds. He played in a stack of local UK bands and this 2019 EP revived The Dry Retch with a tweaked line-up. Stooges apart, the band's other listed influences are Chrome Cranks, The MC5, Mudhoney, Radio Birdman, Destroy All Monsters, Thee Hypnotics, Cosmic Psychos, the New York Dolls and the Brian James Gang. As Sir Les Paterson would say: "Are you following me, son?"
"Gulags" was released in 2019 and takes a leaf out of the book of Detroit punks Matt Gimmick, who had a stab at covering two of these songs in 1979. The covers date from the Stooges' 1971 period, from which very little survives apart from some out-of-print live French bootlegs and Easy Action's "You Don't Want My Name You Want My Action" box set. This is most of the set that the brief Asheton-Williamson-Recca-Asheton-Pop twin-guitar line-up played.
Despite all the regrets Stooges fans harbour about the line-up not lasting, it was a mis-match. The James Williamson of '71 was never going to leave enough space for another guitar. Ron Asheton's influence as a songwriting muse to Iggy's reductionist angst had faded from favour. The band was dividing along drug buddy lines. It would have taken a special producer to corral them into a studio, if the money and motivation had been in existence. Which it wasn't.
It was on a Mascis-Watt-Asheton-Asheton UK tour that John Retch asked the late Ron Asheton to record the songs with him but he demurred, as they were Strait James compositions.
By now you may have guessed that the "A Kick in the Gulags" does not fuck around. The twin guitars of the band-leader and JP will drive a fuzz-propelled rocket up your arse. The opening "You Don't Know My Name" and "Fresh Rag" (alternative title: "New York Pussy Tastes Like a Dog" - true story) are among the best Stooges covers to assail these ears since the 1988 all-Aussie tribute "Hard To Beat".
The production is slightly muddy (although a damn sight clearer than the original audience recordings) and somehow appropriate. The band has understandably fudged some of the lyrics, but the spirit shines through. You can certainly hear the ghost of Ron Asheton in the stabbing licks of "Fresh Rag", while drummer Wils evokes the heavy swing of the departed Mr Rock Action.
The surging "Big Time Bum" (alternative title: "Over My Dead Cock"), "Do You Want My Love?" And "Dead Body" aren't far behind.
The sole original, "Soviet Girls (Who Bleed)", is a sprawling number that recalls the (early) Durvovniks in a ribald mood. It also showcases some searing guitar work. Grab a copy from The Dry Retch Bandcamp site