Cool Ways - Kevin K and the Hollywood Stars (Rankoutsider)
The rock and roll family tree of Lower East Side garage rodent Kevin K is enough to cause even Pete Frame heartburn, the past quarter century and change a revolving door of true believers like Aunt Helen, The Toys, The Road Vultures, Trash Brats, Freddy Lynxx and The Corner Gang, The Kevin K Band, The Real Kool Kats, and now The Hollywood Stars. Along the way, he’s shared a thousand clammy club gigs with various Ramones, Dolls, Heartbreakers, and Dead Boys, shoring up a curriculum vitae that doesn’t really call for a cover letter.
But he’s never been much concerned with what the Myspace generation would call “street cred,” a craggy, tattooed Paul Westerberg gone to seed who prefers to expose his battered soul going up in flames on a discography that now bulges with 16 studio albums giving new meaning to “sleaze,” “glam,” and “grit.” If you don’t feel like you’ve woken up the morning after a rum bender face down in the gutter with moss growing on your tongue, dirt under your fingernails, bruised ribs, and a head full of matted hair after listening to any of them, then you must not have been paying attention.
The constant search and craving for that stop-dead-in-my-tracks feeling that set my world on fire as a kid is so often a fruitless one that when I do find it, I’m often prone to fauning, gushing, overstatement. So look out below: “Cool Ways” is a chugging, crunchy, sugar-coated kick in the pants, a near-perfect shake-up of guitar pop, punk swagger, and greasy swing. It makes my head spin, my liver quiver, my bladder splatter, and my heart reel. Admit it – it sounds better than sitting by your computer waiting for Radiohead to deem you worthy enough to download “In Rainbows,” doesn’t it?
With effortless aplomb, K and The Stars (drummer Pat Morgan, bassist and Streetwalkin’ Cheetah Dino Everett, guitarist Tsubasa Muratani, and saxophonist Aaron Minton) knock out feisty, peerless bubblepunk songs about girls, taking pills, and getting the hell out of town, seemingly concerned with nothing much more than reveling in the glory of ringing guitars, honking sax, rattling drums, and gooey pop hooks.
“She’s Got the Look” is a churning, good-time Stonesy stomp, “Cool Ways” and “You Tonight” would slot nicely onto a new “Yellow Pills” anthology, and “Makeup and Breakup” is the greatest song Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure never wrote, an “L.A.M.F.” outtake where the guitars snarl, spit, and hiss like feral cats trampled by rampaging circus elephants while a kindergarten class field trip screams from the bleachers. I’m not sure where K found Muratani, a swanky, pint-sized reference book of old-school licks, but he’d better keep him on a short leash.
By the time “Sick of Brick” and “Getaway” get zapped by the laser beam, there’s no doubt these guys are in a zone, on a roll of Herculean proportions, apparently eating their vitamins every day and saying their prayers every night, perhaps second guessing the bartering of their souls in exchange for a run of six straight songs to open this album they’d be hard pressed to ever equal, let alone top. When K brags “I took a pee on the Joshua tree/It made me feel like a celebrity,” it’s obvious the guy feels bulletproof.
Incredibly, there’s no discernible drop in quality control on the second half of the album although the tone is just a bit darker. “Night of the Living Dolls” is a tip of the hat to the four members of that band who have cashed in their chips, “Rehab” takes Paris Hilton and David Hasselhoff to task, and “This Is My Blood” is the sonic equivalent of K’s tombstone epitaph (“Rock and roll played poorly/Played in a hurry…Running through my veins just like mud”).
K’s production here is damn near perfect as well. It’s bright and crisp but he hasn’t sanded off all of the rough edges. The ramshackle guitars are way up in the mix and sound like a dust-up between Thunders, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Chuck Berry in the alley behind Max’s. The rhythm section have their say as well, spartan, economic, and in the pocket.
If only you could bottle this up and sell it… The attitude and craftsmanship that is.