Rock 'n' Roll Heretic (1993)
Rock Against The Clock (1997)
Bend Or Stand (1999)
- The Backsliders
Before we start, I need to make it clear that this group is a trio of rock 'n' rollers from Le Havre, France, not the similarly named blues trio from Sydney, Australia. All of the albums I'm about to prattle on about are relatively old. There should be a new album coming out shortly (very shortly in fact), but in the meantime I've taken it upon myself to rectify their unaccountable absence from the I94 site.
A second warning: none of these albums are available outside their native France (and in the case of their first album "Impose The Worst", apparently not even available inside France either - which is why I'm unable to include it in this write up). If you like good, hard rock of the sort featured on this site, but are unable or unwilling to deal with a mailorder company in a foreign country, then you'd be advised to stop reading now, otherwise you're just going to get yourself upset.
I was introduced properly to the Backsliders by Didier Georgieff, webmaster of the Divine Rites site and owner of the Divine Rites record label, who organised cheap copies of their then very recent "Bend or Stand" (together with "Livin' With A Head" by Holy Curse - the other outstanding French band to loom across my rock 'n' roll horizon during the 90s) for subscribers of the Divine Rites e-mail list to show that France does have at least two seriously rockin' bands. Boy did he ever prove his point!
Prior to this formal introduction, my knowledge of the Backsliders was limited to their cover of the Fun Things' "Savage" on Didier's "Storming the Citadel" tribute and "Sex My Soul On Fire" on Steve Gardner's excellent "The Violence Inherent In The System" compilation of European bands on NKVD Records (which track, by the way, is from the aforementioned, unobtainable "Impose The Worst").
Subsequently I was able to get the other two albums direct from the band. When those two albums arrived in the mail, their manager had included a couple of press releases which, being in French, weren't as much use to me as they might otherwise have been, but the accompanying photos did show that the band's appearance is as hard as its sound. The band consists of the core of Francois Lebas (guitar and vocals) and Eric Goument (drums) with a different bass player on each album (?? Vaubourg, Laury Picard and Christophe Paillette respectively). In the words of a bloke I used to work with years ago, they're a bunch of real tough lookin' eggs.
Of the three albums, it's probably not surprising that I'm most taken with "Bend Or Stand'. After all, it's the one I heard first; it's the one with the most mature song writing; and it's the one with the most polished sound. However, the other two are certainly far from being devoid of interest.
Taking them in chronological order makes "Rock 'n' Roll Heretic" the first cab off the rank. After the short instrumental "Overture" (no don't panic, this isn't going to turn out to be one of them there self-indulgent concept albums), comes one of the standout tracks: the morose, belligerent "Glamorize Me", after which "Utopia Airways" picks up the pace and from there the album rarely lets up. A few of the songs which follow are a little lightweight or not fully realised, but there are also some gritty proto-classics like "You Gotta Love Me", "You Drag Me Down", "Somebody Save Me" and the closing "My Own Free Will". I don't think it's any accident that these statements are all in the first person...
Although this is a guitar band (and the guitar work doesn't ever let up), Monsieur Lebas doesn't take much in the way of actual solos so most of the songs come across more as ensemble pieces than as singer/guitar star with rhythm section in the background, which gives the whole album a more coherent feel than many comparable power trio efforts.
According to the release dates I've been given (there are no production or copyright dates anywhere on any of these albums themselves), there was a hiatus of four years before the next album, "Rock Against The Clock". Right from the start, the heavily fuzzed "Smells Like Sulphur" signals a significant departure from the last album. What we have here is a rawer, harsher (dare I say grungier?) sound, with many tracks dominated by double tracked guitar. To my ears, this is the least subtle and least satisfactory of the three albums and I play it a lot less often than the other two, but there are still some good reasons to drag it out from time to time.
Almost as an antidote to the opening track, the title track tries for an updated '50s feel (the sort of thing that Asteroid B612's John Spittles persistently accomplishes apparently effortlessly) but it goes off the rails with too much fuzz and then the following "Stuck On You" over balances into full metal jackoff mode. However the outlook isn't completely bleak. "Get Myself Along" with its slightly husky vocals and chainsaw guitar has something in common with the best of the Yesmen, while "The Last Straight Line" has a brass section making a guest appearance, giving it more of a soul feel and "Don't Take A Chance On Me" is a full bore, pedal to the metal rocker that wouldn't sound out of place in a Powder Monkeys set. I note that this last song includes the name of the previous bass player in its credits, marking it as an older song, but then apparently so is "Pain To Paper", which sounds still unfinished (and a tad too metal as well), and "Ultimate Lager", which is an unimaginative and unrelieved grind bordering on hardcore. On the other hand, the closing "Out Of Reach" is credited to the new line up but manages to achieve a nice, fat stoner sound without suffering from any of the excesses of some of the other tracks on the album.
And so we arrive at "Bend Or Stand". The production delivers a clear, clean sound (with the drums being especially well served) and all the songs are fully realised and well arranged. There's also the widest range yet of musical variety, with different tracks receiving the assistance of a guest horn section (but not the same musicians as on the last album), pianist, extra guitarist or even a harmonica player. Right from the opening "Ignore Me When I'm Down", employing the aforementioned horn section and presented with enough gusto to ensure that there's no way that anyone within earshot is ever likely to ignore them, it's obvious that this album is going to fulfill the promise of the earlier albums.
Next up, "Maximum Welfare Guarantee" is a further development of the chainsaw model prototyped by "Get Myself Along" on the previous album. However this time the guitar is doing less grinding and more shredding, lightening and lifting the sound, which is anchored by the sort funky bass spanking which I don't usually respond to but which works well for this song.
The title track is a personal favourite of mine, an indictment of US cultural imperialism that fluctuates between moody resentment and open defiance, all to a driving beat rounded out with some tasteful piano which, though kept largely in the background, still enriches the musical texture.
This is followed by the pessimistic but nevertheless relentlessly rockin' "It's All Fucked", which sounds like it would make a good replacement for our current national anthem given the present state of the Australian economy. "Walkin' down the streets/By hundreds of mental cripples/Ready to suck up/Ready for the reward"... hmm, were those Canberra streets he was walking down?
"Statement" sounds like a straight forward rocker, uncompromising but uncomplicated. Reading the words though, "Despair" might be a better title. Ah those Frenchmen with their existential angst. If Jean Paul Satre had cut an album, some of the songs might have sounded like this (that's if he could have rounded up a backing band as ballsy as these musicians).
Moving from the general to the personal, "Wrong Side" is another highlight of the album. It veers from restrained, introspective verses outlining the protagonist's emotional isolation to an admonitory, almost anthemic, chorus of "Don't hang around with losers/Just stay away from me" making for a powerful package, bordering on the cathartic, that often has me singing along, occasionally to the annoyance of my co workers if I have made the mistake of playing it in my CDRom at the office (since I'm listening to it through earpieces, I hear it but all they hear is me).
Aw stuff it, there's no point in me going through entire album track by track - there are a dozen songs and they're all good. If you have any interest in the sort of music that this site stands for, then I can assure you that your life will be just a hollow mockery until you own a copy of at least this album and preferably the Backslider's entire output. Consider yourself told.
All three of these albums are still available direct from the band at:
62 Rue Casimir Delavigne
76600 Le Havre
or email them at:
- John McPharlin
Rock 'n' Roll Heretic:
Rock Against The Clock:
Bend or Stand:
BACK TO THE REVIEWS PAGE
BACK TO THE BAR