The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World
Tucson-to-Seattle transplants the Supersuckers have gone through most of the '90s performing their satanic cowboy punks gone metal shtick with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. As the decade draws to a close, the group has resurfaced with a 27-song retrospective -- The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World -- the first release in more than two years bearing the band's moniker (and its last under the aegis of Sub-Pop, as the group left the Seattle indie for Interscope, only to be dropped in the chaos that followed the Seagram's-PolyGram merger. At last report, the group is set to reemerge in October with a new record from New York-based Koch Records).
With titles like "She's My Bitch," "How to Maximize Your Kill Count" and "Bad Bad Bad," it's obvious that subtlety has never been the Supersuckers' forte. Most of the band's songs are musical and lyrical romps fueled by coke, booze and a professed love (comical to be sure) of the Prince of Darkness. As a career-spanning collection, Greatest Rock and Roll Band is a thorough enough package, offering up the best of the band's official catalogue as a well as number of unreleased tracks, B-sides and hard-to-find selections.
From the sinister bass and crunchy chords of "Creepy Jackalope Eye," to the call and response of "Beat to Shit," the group's well-defined mix of classic rock, Brit punk and lyrical novelty is engaging without ever taking itself too seriously. Unfortunately, the band's songs have a tendency to get overwhelmed by an often inexcusable lack of melody -- as on the pointless mire of "Can't Resist" and "Givin' It Away." A cover of Ice Cube's "Dead Homiez" -- recast here as a chunky, wah-wah-driven funk number -- also falls flat after you get past the one (fairly obvious and not that funny to begin with) joke.
Supersuckers are far more successful when they get back to their Southwestern roots -- something the band did on its last long-player, 1997's country genre exercise Must've Been High. The group shows uncharacteristic restraint on the wide-open cowboy plop of "Dead in the Water" and "Roadworn and Weary" and the rockabilly/blues shuffle of "Supersucker Drive-By Blues."
The collection also features the band's duet with maverick singer, ex-con and ex-junkie Steve Earle on Keith Richards' autobiographical anthem "Before They Make Me Run" (taken from 1996's Supersuckers/Earle split EP). Another pseudo-country highlight is a beefed-up run-through of the Willie Nelson classic "Bloody Mary Morning" (featuring the Red-Headed Stranger himself on guitar and vocals) from 1996's Nelson tribute album Twisted Willie.
The real revelation of the record is the inclusion of a pair of unreleased songs from the band's Arizona heyday as the Black Supersuckers, featuring the vocals of original front man Eric Martin (a somewhat ironic choice given the way the band unceremoniously dumped the singer, who later died from a 1994 overdose).
Martin's rich Jaggeresque vocal delivery on "Wake Me When It's Over" is like finding a long-lost gem from Let It Bleed or Sticky Fingers. If nothing else, the track shows the band's talent for making earnest country/blues -- something they chucked (along with Martin) in favor of their jokey Satan-worshiping posture. "Monkey" -- the other Martin-sung number -- finds the band working more familiar "desert noir" territory and gradually building into a Sabbath/Zep stomp. The "Black" tracks are wisely included at the end of the record as Martin's range and soulful vocal presence effectively dwarf singer/shouter Eddie Spaghetti's adequate but limited pipes.
Although ample credit should be given to Sub-Pop for going all the way in gathering Supersuckers material from no less than a dozen albums, tributes and compilations, The Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World is far from perfect. Lesser numbers like the aforementioned Cube cover and the previously unreleased "Givin' It Away" could have been jettisoned in favor of top-shelf material like "My Victim" and "Run Like a Motherfucker" (the latter sung by departed guitarist and former Didjits axman Rick Sims). And one could certainly argue whether it was better to include "Saddletramp" over the group's incendiary (pun intended) cover of Madonna's "Burnin' Up" (both coming from the Supersuckers' 1992 singles comp/EP The Songs All Sound the Same). Ultimately, though, the record is a more than comprehensive omnibus that will have you flashing devil horns long after the disc's sacrilicious sound has faded. -- Bob Mehr
Alright, This Time, Just the Girls
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Perhaps aiming to destroy the myth of the coy and demure "girl group," Sympathy for the Record Industry -- the laudable indie rock label operated out of the Long Beach home of "self-proclaimed anti-mogul" Long Gone John -- has deigned to levy this guide to the varied styles and sounds of the fairer sex.
This double CD pulls together selections from the label's nearly 600 releases (mostly seven-inch singles) spanning its first 10 years. With an amazing ear for quality, Long Gone John understands the urgent sexual frenzy that makes for great rock music, and knows how to find it, regardless of sex, notoriety or style. And, as the "anti-mogul" insists in his liner notes, this is not a compilation -- those are for outtakes, duds and throwaway songs. Rather, This Time, Just the Girls is a sampling of the label's greatest hits.
There are big-name bands -- Hole, Red Aunts, Thee Headcoatees, Geraldine Fibbers, Free Kitten, and the Bags -- as well as obscure and short-lived groups that make up the 48 tracks of the 135-minute collection.
One of the label's most successful alumni, the Muffs, starts off the set with the infectious, heavy-pop stomp of their 1991 declaration "I Don't Like You." At the time, the fledgling two-girl-two-guy band bore as much (sonic) resemblance to Motörhead as it did the Shangri-Las, and this fuzz-drenched freakout captures them at their finest.
Detroit Cobras Rachel Nagy's sultry Grace Slick-meets-Lesley Gore vocal strut on "Ain't Hittin' on Nothin'" is perfectly suited to her group's lovingly maligned R&B. The co-ed combo makes skilled use of distorted guitars played by dual guitarists who actually know how to form complete barre-chords and a rhythm section throbbing with pugilistic sexuality.
The grating bite of Hole's first single, "Retard Girl," released by Sympathy in 1990, shows how far Courtney and company have come from their noisy, screaming banshee roots. Elsewhere, Japan's wildcat garage rockers the 5-6-7-8's give their instruments a vicious thrashing on "Bomb the Twist."
Likewise, noisy girl groups ranging from Free Kitten, the Lunachicks and the Banana Erectors demonstrate that brawn isn't the key to powerful rock 'n' roll -- it's inspiration.
But, as Sympathy releases frequently reassert, frenzied and noisy songs are only a part of quality rock 'n' roll. Just as Holly Golightly's beguiling sneer drives the weary country sway of "Anyway You Like It," the Chubbies' charming sing-along pop of "When I Was Your Girlfriend" shows just how expressive female singers can be. Alright, This Time effectively smashes the conventional definition of girl groups -- be they frenetic garage rock, hummable pop or eruptive punk. -- Dave Clifford
Get the Music Newsletter