Too Far Gone – Hard-Ons (Citadel)
This lavish double CD package closes the lid on the first life of the Hard-Ons, nicely. Not in the literal sense of the term. Far from it. It's like a skateboard ride down a very rough track, a mix of disparate hardcore and metal songs that sits at odds with much of what came before.
When the original album came out in mid-1993, nobody knew (but band members could sense) that it was the last recording by the Hard-Ons with their original line-up. That's the context and it now makes sense.
It’s funny how records released in the past evoke specific memories when revisited years later. For me, this one doesn’t throw up much. I think I bought it well after it came out. It seems lots of fans shared that indifference.
As the band members note in the liners, “Too Far Gone” was a reaction against the shiny pop-punk box in which the Hard-Ons had been placed. There are a couple of songs along those lines (“I Do I Do I Do” jumps out) but “Too Far Gone” was mostly abrasive, fragmented and stylistically all over the shop. And their then-label, Waterfront, hated it.
As their promo pack puts it, this album is “the glorious warts-and-all end result of these magnificent bastards waving their privates in the face of the oncoming alternate-rock apocalypse”.
“Too Far Gone” has aged a whole lot better than most of the grunge records of the time. Excuse me for putting the boot in at this point. People thought grunge was the salvation of rock and roll back then. In retrospect - with some exceptions - it was a crock of retrograde shit. It gave major labels a common focus - and of course they threw around cash like confetti in the charge to sign acts.
Much of the musical output was homogenised and safe. Half the bands sounded like the Beatles on downers. Flannel shirts, down-tuned guitars and long hair do not equate to a musical revolution. A by-product was that a lot of great music got forced to the edges or trampled right underground when the marketers took hold.
With hindsight it’s now obvious from “Too Far Gone” where the Hard-Ons (specifically Blackie and Ray) were heading. Just a fortnight later, they’d formed the genre-defying Nunchukka Superfly, whose abstract sounds and ability to rhythmically turn-on-a-coin has delighted - or repelled - audiences ever since.
There’s a heavier, metallic sound on the 17-song “Too Far Gone” that manifests itself most obviously through Blackie’s dominant guitar tone. “Yummy”, this is not. “Crazy Crazy Eyes” (the single) probably sums it up best with its grinding, metal sound. There’s a creepy edge to “The Blade” (with guest vocal from Jerry A of Poison Idea) that puts this vengeance tale at the lyrical polar opposite to the band’s poppy material. The brief “Lost” and “I Do I Do I Do” are the cuts likely to resonant most with lovers of their lighter stuff.
It's not that the Hard-Ons were past caring by the time they spat this one out. Above all there's just an abiding sense in the songs that the band had done all it wanted to (and more) by this stage and members were looking for a new challenge.
The package comes in a fold-out wallet with the usual generous liner notes (and riotous Blackie stream of consciousness) with a whopping 53 tracks in total. By now, band members were working individually on songs with the aid of a Portastudio. The album might have sounded disjointed, but the raw demo tracks for “Too Far Gone” that make up the bulk of the second disc are also a revelation in their stripped-back form. You don’t have to be an ironed-on fan of the record to enjoy them.
The reformed Hard-Ons have gone on to make much better albums than "Too Far Gone" but without it you don't have the full picture. Particularly recommended if you want an upgrade on the original.