Shark Infested Waters – Various Artists (Easy Action)
Sometimes I think I’m a bastard instead of being just somewhat scatterbrained. See, I put this order in to Easy Action and they sent a couple of other CDs as well. Generous of them. And I never thanked them.
Alright, I’d had a couple of man-flu health ishoos, and there were other inconveniences. But I never fucking thanked them. And they’re a generous, intelligent company. I feel like a small limp dick confessing this. But you should know some of the circumstances.
Thing is, tho', if I receive a CD - doesn’t matter if someone’s pressed it into my hand with breathy promises of future indiscretions if I do a good review, or whether I’ve forked out $250 just to get the bastard out of the hands of Customs, if it’s a shit CD I just won’t bother. See, the Barman’s rate of pay amounts to me not having to dry the glasses. You dig?
So, I’m on my own time, and I’ve got other things to do. Other reviews as well. So.
Compilations are hard to assemble. It’s not easy to pluck the songs out into a meaningful, flowing, exciting order. An order which has you guessing, dancing, swearing and generally carrying on into the night. Still less is it an easy task to put together a CD which stands repeat playings, over and over; I would imagine the task would be even more difficult when you’re looking at a single label (unless you’re Universal, Polydor, Rhino or Cherry Red).
Recently I’ve been driving rather poorly due to the excitement of two Sartorial Records Samplers. My driving hasn’t gotten any better; "Shark Infested Waters" is a killer CD, filled with killer songs by, possibly, killer people. The cover artwork features an attractive young lass wearing an oxygen mask; while I’m sure she’s no stranger to dreadful pick-up lines, since this cover becoming public I assume her messagebank is chockas with pervy lunatics, pretending they’re either Frank or asthmatic or both. Hell, the cover alone makes you want to buy "Shark Infested Waters’" just on its, um … artistic merit. Yes, that’s it. Artistic merit.
We open with a noticeably different version of Iggy and the Stooges’ "I Got a Right" to the one everyone is familiar with. Easy Action are the kings of Stooges rediscoveries and packages; most of the shabby single-disc compilations seem to have been pirated from such boxes as Easy Action’s "Heavy Liquid" - if you don’t own it, and still consider yourself a Stooges fan, you’re a buffoon.
Good start, eh? Calling most Stooges fans buffoons. Yet there’s the rub. If you start a compilation with the Stooges at their ferocious peak, who the hell can follow that? Well, some mob called Amebix who have apparently been around for 20 years. Not in my backyard, but then I s’pose I’m an ignorant (as well as ungrateful) git. "God of the Grain" starts off with the call to prayer and then gets into your skull and stays there.
Thunderous drumming and a wall of guitars with a vocal initially mixed well down, forcing us, rather like Ed Kuepper in his Laughing Clowns days, to strain to hear. This has the effect of wrenching our attention into several pieces. It’s rather horrible and glorious. By 2015 you can make your own assumptions as to Amebix’ influences; it’s as pointless as it is self-denigrating. Let the music take you instead; the LP is ‘Sonic Mass’"
Moriaty have a distinct guitar-heavy '60s feel to them; if ‘Venus Fly Trap’ is any indication we’re definitely in Hammer-guitar territory here; it’s from an LP called "The Devil’s Child". Again, you’ll spot a few reference points but they’re unimportant. What is important is avoiding knocking over the furniture as you leap and pound around the living room, and possibly speaking politely to the police as they kick the door down.
Rowland S. Howard and Nikki Sudden are up next, definitely transgressing on the heaviosity. "Don’t Explain" is classic Rowland; Nikki’s piano is lovely as you’d explain. If you don’t get Rowland, you won’t be alone. If you have actually heard "Pop Crimes" and still don’t get Rowland, this won’t help. But if you came to Rowland late, and have never heard of Nikki Sudden, the LP "Don’t Explain" comes from, "Kiss You Kidnapped Charabanc", will be revelatory.
As with so many of these Brit bands, I’ve never heard of Honey; "DFK" is a lazy, slow-swinging piece which gradually raises you up; there’s a certain late '60s crime show vibe to it. I confess I didn’t like it that much but - and here’s the rub - some bands you really have to see live, and I’d be more than happy to give Honey a chance. Hell, the reverse is true often enough, we’ve all heard great LPs to discover that the band themselves were woeful. Pursuing music is a risk. Digital storage and free, devalued music takes away that risk.
This track is from Honey’s EP, "Suckle’. The Red Cords" "The Dodo" is two minutes zip of pounding, irritable pop. That dreadful drawling vocal which the Brits do appears here, but to brilliant effect. You’re back knocking over the missus’ favourite vases and the dog dives behind the telly. There are a few moments here where surely ‘The Dodo’ has gone past four minutes but no. There’s a lot going on here. Great fun.
The Black Tambourines’ take-no-prisoners powerpop appears in the form of "Lemon", which is simply great fun. Again the thing with the living room, so move to the kitchen where things aren’t quite as cluttered (yet). Self-titled LP (which includes their first EP).
Lost Dawn revert to that fabulous heavy '60s thing with "The Fall", a little more obviously but - like the Jam’s version of "Taxman" (ahem, now the Jam fans will hate me) - it really doesn’t matter. Lost Dawn are sharp, smart, groovin and bailin’. Gorgeous and superbly boppable. Self-titled LP, you can’t say no, you know you want it, baby.
Now, Teasing Lulu are mighty, mighty fine. A bass thrum starts us off but then there’s a few abrupt, pleasing changes of pace as Louisa and Lucy belt out the lyrics in fine style. "Are You With Me or Not?" says it all, you ain’t got a choice here, you have to get their LP, "Black Summer"
The Skuzzies’ "Brompton Cocktail" is a slight history lesson as guitarist Jerome Alexander now has a different outfit, Deadcuts. But hey, don’t miss "Brompton Cocktail", a bit like a granular hit, or a cinema verite look at … no, hear it, go figure. Beguiling and captivating. They musta been hot shit live. The LP is again self-titled, go get it.
Oh, look. A familiar name. John Lee Hooker’s "Mamma You Got a Daughter’" - fuck it, compiler Carlton says ‘the very first album length session recorded by John Lee Hooker and it was never released as an album - until now.’ If that ain’t enough, I will simply add that it’s a revelation in itself. The LP is called "I’m Going Home".
The Hydromatics’ "Asteroid B-612" is from their album "Parts Unknown", hailed in these very digital pages. Full on, fulla swing and vibe. I’ll say no more. Essential.
Primal Scream and DKT MC5 "Skull-X" is from the LP and live DVD. "Black to Comm" - honestly, I shouldn’t need to explain this stuff. Is the song any good? Yes. In spades. Now I’ve bust the toaster and the microwave and I don’t care. Moving outside now.
Next is Sonic’s Rendezvous Band and "City Slang" (from the Sonic’s Rendezvous Box Set). If you still haven’t heard "City Slang" … Jesus. Get the box you idiot. Scott Morgan and the Hellacopters "Down Right Blue". More Scott Morgan. Like Sonic, the man all the other rockers wish they could be. Hell, just look at the title of the box set it comes from, "Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust". C’mon. Stir yourself.
The B-52s. Ah yes. I remember a mate coming back from seeing the Talking Heads first tour of Aus, they played the B52s' first LP in its entirety over the PA. "Lava" is one of the forgotten tracks I guess, but then I thrashed the lp to death over that year, only to find that Molly holding up the LP in December (it had taken a while to be released over here), when the alb um went to the charts and stayed there. I still put that LP on, damn loud. Ricky Wilson’s guitar… (oh, it’s a live track, and it’s just wonderful)
Phil Shoenfelt I should have heard of. So should you. ’Stupid Rockstar’ is the truth about real rockers. Lazy, driving riffs shove us into a corner. I gotta get the LP ‘paranoia.com’. The Johnny Thunders’ track, "Just Another Girl" is from the recent "In Cold Blood" set, laying emphasis to the man’s playing. The sound on this one really opens up his vulnerability. If you thought Johnny Thunders was just about cod-glam and dolling around, listen up. You’ll be glad you did.
Brian James was, once upon a time, one of the Damned. "Sick of Being Sick" is a later recording of one of many tracks he did when he was with the band - and his take on it is exactly what you want - it takes a few risks and revels in it. It’s a fucking HUGE rendition and I can see the neighbours over the fence. They’re dipping sticks in tar and lighting the bastards. One of them has a handy pitchfork. Brian James’ LP, "Damned if I Do" is considerably more exciting than the last Damned album I bought.
It took me a very long time to discover that Bob Dylan did do some good things. When I was growing up he was the epitome of a boring introspective prick. However. I guess I may have grown older. This is an older Bob; "Baby Please Don’t Go’"(file along with John Lee Hooker …) this stuff is unreleased at present and definitely cries out for release. Right down simple and big, brutal and powerful.
The Alice Cooper Group’s "Nobody Likes Me" is from that early band which no-one remembers. The LP is "Nobody Likes Us" and, from this sample, is essential. C’mon, you have Alice records. Get ‘em out. Speaking of which, I’ve scarpered over the back fence as the neighbours torch my house and what appears to be a straw effigy.
Patti Smith "Piss Factory". Live. This song was a B-side, and the version is, according to Carlton’s notes, "one of the few times the song was performed live in the seventies". I recall hearing this one for the first time on a compilation made for me, which included Suicide’s "Ghost Rider" and "Frankie Teardrop". I was a fan of Patti Smith until I heard her first LP. "Piss Factory" got me excited, as does this version. This is from a live album, "Depravity".
At this point, you should be wasted, stoned, drunk and pissed off, looking for action and somewhere else to dance. Now angry, you should be running outside to smash stuff. Ah, hell. That was 40 years ago. I’m tired. I want a bath. Where are my socks? I left my keys somewhere. Did I just fart, or… ? Ah, yeah. Punk rock. That’s what I’m talking about. "Shark Infested Waters". Get it or you’re a waste of space. No, wait, even if you know you’re a waste of space: still get it. Buy ‘Shark Infested Waters’ - and the other 22 cds (at a minimum) - at www.easyaction.co.uk - Robert Brokenmouth
A decade into its existence, it’s too easy to brand UK imprint Easy Action as a legacy label. Nostalgia sells - especially to the truly committed or completists - and the imprint's prodigious output of lost or neglected stuff from Iggy, the Stooges, T-Rex, The Yardbirds, the MC5, Steve Marriot and Nikki Sudden (among others) has been mind-blowing.
Then there’s this collection, which takes only a handful of songs to underline that there’s a lot more going on than just re-treading the past. Moriarty, The Red Cords, Amebix, Teasing Lulu, The Black Tambourines and The Skuzzies were names I’d heard but whose music I had not before wrapping ears around this 22-track disc.
Of course samplers can be hit or miss and are very much reliant on the tastes of the compiler. Easy Action head Carlton Sandercock owes his to the ‘70s UK punk scene that he grew up in but goes way back further. He draws on ragged precursors like the Dolls, the MC5, the Stooges, as well as the blues masters, and all points in-between. There’s enough of both the familiar and the downright eclectic to encourage a dip into these “Shark Infested Waters.”
Most of the lesser lights are English and tick the box for earthy and raw garage appeal. Not all are still active - Amebix are old stagers who have reformed, and are coming from a much heavier industrial place - but all compare favourably to anything else of their ilk that’s out there. Of the other unfamiliar bands, Moriarty is an intense duo, a wall of fuzz and drums that - on the strength of this cut, “Venue Fly Trap” - is downright intoxicating. Honey’s “DFK” is all creeping menace and commanding female vocal, courtesy of guitarist Sarah Tyrell, that recalls early Nirvana (in that time before commercialism crushed whatever grunge had to offer.)
Wind back the clock 30 years and The Red Cords could be one of the better English punk bands to wash up after the first wave of three-chord fury had subsided. A beautifully jagged shard of guitar brings “The Dodo” to a satisfyingly crashing halt. The Black Tambourines’ “Lemon” could have fallen off a mid-80s garage revival compilation and hits the spot in clocking in at 2mins precisely. Lost Dawn is another duo and “The Fall” is a compelling slice of skronk.
Best of the lot is “Are You With Me Or Not?” by Teasing Lulu, a defunct trio headed by Lucy Dalton whose killer vocal should make you sit up and take note. The Skuzzies are another departed act who had connections top Pete Doherty and Babyshambles, apparently. “Brompton Cocktail” has an edgy, damaged sounding vibe, staggering to the halfway point before exploding.
Fans of the departed Rowland S Howard will need to hear the Billie Holiday cover (“Don’t Explain”) with the also late Nikki Sudden on vocals. It’s wistful in the style of much of Sudden’s output with RSH playing a restrained and tasteful hand. Cuts from Phil Shonefelt, Brian James, the Hydromatics, Alice Cooper (circa 1970), Johnny Thunders and DTK-MC5 and Primal Scream (if you don’t own their live collaboration you deserve shooting) give you a fair grasp of the extensive ground Easy Action has covered.
And what it will cover. There's a Bob Dylan studio track - an earthy "Baby Please Don't Go" that tangles itself up in blues, lyrically speaking, with some nice re-working.
Your life might already include hearing every conceivable mix of “I Got A Right” (mine does) and there’s another one (from the “Heavy Liquid” box) included here. There’s still no denying its place as one of the pre-eminent punk precursors…even if the world had to wait for punk to hit before it was heard. “City Slang” (here in its remastered version) remains the best song issued on a seven-inch 33rpm vinyl disc anywhere in Christendom, ever. Don’t even think of arguing.
The John Lee Hooker track “Mamma You Got A Daughter” is a revelation that comes from the Great Man’s first recording session. Stunningly simple and crystal clear in its lucidity and emotional impact.
You’ve already heard “Down Right Blue” by Scott Morgan and The Hellacopters if you have his box set on Easy Action. It’s a reminder that this collaboration is where the re-birth of Morgan’s current career began, throwing a spotlight onto one of Michigan rock’s best-kept secrets. It’s one of the best things the ‘Copters had recorded up until then, as well.
The live-to-radio “Piss Factory” from Patti Smith is cpmpressed in the way these radio broadcasts are but it's also more intense than the original 45, and who would have thought a demo of “Lava” from the B-52s would have so much of a gritty edge? It’s interesting to read in the liners that they were as much a post-punk party favourite in the UK as in Australia.
Did we mention it's a budget priced CD that's going for the price of a pint in one of London's posher yuppie bars? Don't waste your money there. The link's below so you know what to do. - The Barman