The Hard Stuff - Wayne Kramer (Muscletone)
Out of print for two years? Shit, hard to believe, but it's good to have this one back in circulation (on Bro. Wayne's new label, with expanded versions of the rest of his Epitaph catalog and even the L-O-N-G gone "Death Tongue" set to follow in its wake - a reissue program long anticipated by true Rock Action devotees, especially those who missed out on 'em the first time). This was, after all, the one that started it all, solo-career wise, as well as serving notice to the world at large that Detroit rock'n'roll was alive and well in the '90s.
It was also (forgive me) the record that finally fulfilled the promise of the MC5, sonically speaking. (When this arrived with the new year of 1995, the Five's great "Thunder Express" had just slipped out, and it'd be a couple of years yet before we got to hear Sonic's Rendezvous Band in their digitally-remastered glory.) As great as they were, all of the Five's recordings were flawed. Compare the original "High Time" version of "Poison" with the version Wayne re-cut for this album with the Melvins; it's like the difference between the blueprint for a Detroit muscle car and the production model. The vernacular of rock'n'roll changed a whole lot between 1971 and 1994...guitar sounds, recording technology, audience expectations, and Wayne and the Five had a lot to do with that.
"The Hard Stuff" was appropriately named. Few records hit as hard as this one, and it flows from strength to strength (NO bad cuts). I still remember what a buzz it was hearing "Crack In the Universe" exploding out the speakers at the record store where I was moonlighting when it first came through on an Epitaph sampler. (And the thrill of hearing Wayne spicing up his solo on that tune with the descending line from the one on the original "Poison.")
The album didn't disappoint, either. The demos Wayne cut in Nashville might have been "too clean" for Brett Gurewitz (who realized that his label's core audience of 15-year-old boys wouldn't be able to relate to it), but Brett's idea of teaming Wayne with some of the Young Turks of L.A. punk was inspired. Wayne spent his whole career at the cutting edge of his craft; the kids from Clawhammer, Pennywise, Rancid and the rest grew up in a world where the MC5 might have been the only other band that ever existed, at least as far as dynamics are concerned. The innovations of the fathers become the heartbeat of the sons. Since then, shit-hot drummer Josh Freese has gone on to A Perfect Circle (and the Guitar Center ad flyer next to my computer). I was also surprised to learn from Wayne's new liner notes that the James Jamerson, Jr., who provides the fonky bass on "Pillar of Fire" (co-conspirator Mick Farren's account of the '91 L.A. riots) is the SON of the Motown studio mainstay, not the man himself. Live and learn.
Wayne had gained a lot of ground as a guitarist since his young days of blending Chuck Berry drive with acid-blues flourishes and bull-elephant feedback roars; jailhouse rock with fellow Lexington inmate Robert Chudnick (who, as Red Rodney, took Miles Davis' place as Charlie Parker's trumpeter) and gigs with Was (Not Was) and various projects with Farren helped hone his chops and expand his palette. Just dig the Hendrixoid R&B arpeggios he plays against the stumbling oblivion of "Junkie Romance" (which he'd expand and elaborate out into the stratosphere by the time he re-cut the tune for "LLMF," reish soon come), and his monstrous vibrato and wah-wah excursions almost everywhere else. He also proved himself to be a motherfucker bassplayer with a little sound-on-sound studio footwork.
But the real revelation on "The Hard Stuff" was the songwriting: literate, experienced, streetwise, funny. Farren gets credit for assisting on five of the original ten tracks, but some of the very best were penned by Wayne on his lonesome: "Sharkskin Suit," the Rob Tyner homage "Edge of the Switchblade," the two spoken word pieces, "Incident on Stock Island" and the original hidden bonus track "So Long, Hank." The talking stuff scared a few people off the first time, but it holds up well, and with the slogan "Rock Music for Grown-Ups," perhaps MuscleTone will do a better job than Epitaph did of getting it into the shopping carts of more SEASONED, MATURE folks who can dig it. And where else are you gonna find rockers as relentless as "Bad Seed" or "Hope For Sale?" NOWHERE, friend. (Although the bonus track "Back To the Wasteland" comes close.)
As for the rest of the new stuff, the Farren/Kramer collaboration "God's Worst Nightmare" is a lot peppier here than the slow warped-blues version released on "Dangerous Madness" (not to mention the Deviants' version from "Eating Jello with a Heated Fork," which had Bro. Wayne on bass). Speaking of "Dangerous Madness," "'Til the Police Come" opens with an acapella vocal section that's reminiscent of "The Boys Got That Look In Their Eyes" from that album. The song itself's a garage-psych pounder with lotsa wah-wah guitar damage. Plus, you get nice Lech Kowalski videos for two tracks that woulda been hits in a just universe.
In subsequent releases, Bro. Wayne would get more ambitious ("Citizen Wayne") and exploratory ("LLMF"), but "The Hard Stuff" was the place where we stakes his claim as both a Mature Recording Artist (right up there with oldsters like Lou Reed, Neil Young, Dylan) and a Born-Again Hard rocker (sure, Neil played with Pearl Jam, but those guys can't hold a candle to these L.A. crews in the intensity sweepstakes). I think it stands up.