Saturday, March 31, 2012

Wild Gift (1981)

Any lingering doubts about X—most to that point seemed to inhere most virulently for the ridiculous reason that the band came from Los Angeles—were pretty much atomized once and for all with this second album, which is A) undeniable, B) ferocious, C) instant classic punk-rock, D) a pungent tangle of emotion and defiance, or E) all of the above. (If you don't know the right answer, remember that "B" tends to be the smart guess in multiple-choice tests.) X just never was any ordinary iconic punk-rock band. There was the matter of the Door (that's Ray Manzarek producing again, as he did all of the first four essential albums), the matter of the super fucked-up couple at the center of it, the matter of the guitarist who worshiped Gene Vincent above all others, and, yes, the matter of the geographical location. "What's there to be so mad about?" is the typical stance taken by outsiders towards Los Angeles—much more so then. Anyway, X made it pretty clear what they were so mad about, this rotten old world we're stuck with, with the rest of the losers, perverts, drunks, cheats, frauds, God-shriekers, misers, and toadies. And when that won't do, Exene Cervenka and John Doe always had each other (in these songs forever, though they finally divorced in 1985). I think Cervenka is a better songwriter, and Doe a better singer, than people always remember. Guitar player and rock star Billy Zoom, with D.J. Bonebrake, already one of the great drummers, keep the focus on the roar that must sooner or later erupt out of the skittish, tentative way they approach a song. The rhythm of assault and retreat is steady here, with various modulations in terms of harmony, melody, country flourishes, lyrical thematics. Always it roots itself in elaborations of the staple of rockin' and in that regard it can feel as nutritious as a well-balanced breakfast. It deserves to be played very loud. I should think that goes without saying. With such a sturdy framework and tuned instincts in place, now and then, as on "The Once Over Twice," "In This House That I Call Home," "White Girl," or "When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch," they manage to reach even deeper, go even higher, extend even further. One of my regrets is that I never managed to see them in this period. They sound capable of effortlessly great sets, the kind that always end way too soon.

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