Once upon a time, Led Zep front man Robert Plant plaintively inquired from the stage, "Does anyone remember laughter?" Not so much flower-powerish drivel as a genuine lament for rock 'n' roll's loss of innocence, it could be paraphrased these days along the lines of, "Does anyone remember aggression?" "Aggression," as in the pent-up, long-smoldering, soul-on-ice, Spirit of '76 punk-rock kind of aggro, not the sputtering, jimmy-capped roars of emasculation that today's mook-rockers and faux-rapsters try to pass off as "punk."
Transcontinental rockers the Chainsaw Men, luckily, have long memories not stunted by excessive exposure to Gameboy and Real World radiation. In just the space of a dozen songs, they reignite punk, channeling the venerable Motor City/Bowery sound of the '70s and delivering manifestos with a ripped-jean viscosity that's all too rare these days. It's a summit meeting between Australia and San Diego, the group's members hailing from legendary Oz combo the Vanilla Chainsaws and our own Gamma Men, hence the combined moniker: The former's singer/guitarist Simon Drew is joined by the latter's Steve Gardner on drums and Dave Elizondo on bass. With lead guitarist Richard Livoni (ex-Blitz Brothers, also of The Shambles) in tow, the Chainsaw Men assembled this set at Livoni's San Diego studio last year, ultimately opting for an unusual triple-distribution scenario via Welsh punk label Smokin' Troll, Australia's Corrosion and Gardner's own NKVD. (Gardner may additionally be familiar in 'zine circles from his efforts with the late, great punk rag Noise for Heroes; he maintains a superb Web site that's loaded with intelligent commentary at www.nkvdrecords.com.)
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With elements both old-school (MC5, Radio Birdman, even a touch of Dead Boys and Jam) and more recent (Bad Religion's brainy investigations and the Lazy Cowgirls' amped-up Stones rawk come to mind), it's safe to say that this band can't miss. Or can it? These days, kids over-weaned on metallic hip-hop and aimlessly riffing "songs" based on open-tunings might not "get it." But that's okay; the rest of us with graying temples and a jones for straightahead rock 'n' roll understand.
From opening cut "Angry Man," which finds Drew snarling out his frustrations in his best Mike Ness voice over propulsive buzz-saw guitars and a full-tilt rhythm section, to the closer "Break Those Chains," an anthemic gotta-be-me number given an expansive, New Christs-style acoustic/electric arrangement, the Chainsaw Men deliver the goods, inspired by several decades' worth of musical heroes and intent upon carrying the torch proudly. In between are numerous highlights, and with both Drew and Gardner divvying up the songwriting chores, there's never any risk of repetition or formulaic regurgitation. At the same time, the band carves out a singular sound, full of an unforced swagger and combined vigor that's inspiring to witness as it unfolds before the ears. Given the geographical logistics, here's hoping a collaboration this empathetic continues.