The Racketeers - Mad For The Racket (Muscle Tone)
Accuse me of revisionism if you will...but when I caught Mad for the Racket live at SXSW, I was less than optimally stoked with their performance. Coupla months later, in a column, I was making more conciliatory noises.
Maybe I judged it too harshly, that kinda thang. And now, the real, no-shit, American release (remixed, or so it seems, from the preliminary run that was out on Track in the U.K.), I gotta say, this is a pretty good Wayne Kramer rekkid (even if it's really more than half a Brian James rekkid), and on his own label, to boot.
Firstly, I need to correct some inaccuracies in my earlier screed. For one thing, all of these compositions (save "I Fall," scribed by James solo) are James-Kramer collaborations. The two co-leaders swap off lead vocals, with Brian taking seven to Bro. Wayne's five. Although ex-Police man Stewart Copeland gets higher billing, it's Blondie's workmanlike stickman Clem Burke who pulls the bulk of the drum duties here, and he kicks 'em GOOD, too (better than Chris Vrenna did onstage at SXSW, IMO). Brock Avery takes Mr. Burke's place on a coupla cuts, providing the same kinda free-jazzy percussives he did on Wayne's adventurous '96-'97 works (including "Dodge Main," the Deviants ixvi's "Eating Jello with a Heated Fork," and John Sinclair's "Full Circle" as well as "Dangerous Madness" and "Citizen Wayne" - the last two, along with the rest of Wayne's worthy Epitaph oeuvre, slated for re-release on Muscle Tone).
Make no mistake about it, kids - this is A ROCK'N'ROLL RECORD (even though "Czar of Poisonville" dips into Bro. Wayne's bag of voodoo spoken word tricks) with a big, cinematic sound (like "Citizen Wayne" but with more, uh, ACCESSIBLE material). Bro. Wayne earns big points as producer on this outing for the drums that crack like rifle fire and layers of churning guitars you could get lost in. They rage and storm away like the seasoned veterans of the rock'n'roll wars they are. No cookie-cutter punkisms here, nor idiot metal funk. These guys are an anachronism, perhaps, but a glorious one.
I still don't see Brian James as being in the same league as Wayne (although he does pretty well for himself on "Trouble Bones" and "Tell A Lie")...but the disparity isn't as pronounced as it was, say, between Johnny Thunders and Wayne in Gang War (send me hate mail through the link at the bottom, JT fans), or between Dr. Tek and the Stump Wizards guys in Deep Reduction.
All five of the toons Wayne sings woulda sounded good on any of his Epitaph recs. My fave remains "Christiana," his lovesong to the CNN war correspondent, but then again, I've always been a sucker for women in khaki. It's interesting that this is his first album since resurfacing with "The Hard Stuff" in '95 that makes no reference to his illustrious history. Proof positive that his present day work stands up without it, I think. (That said, it'll be nice to see those Epitaph discs back in circulation, not to mention the Air Raid and further MC5 goodies that Alive/Total Energy should be laying on us in the next year.)
In a just world, this would be heard and appreciated by a generation of kids who grew up on the noise that these guys spawned (after all, they seem to have caught on the "The Essential Radio Birdman" in a big way...who woulda thunk it?). Realistically, one hopes it'll at least find its way to all of us crusty old bastards who still dig the hard stuff.