Stiv Bators once joked that John Lennon's last hit was the sidewalk. Bators' last hit, you'll recall, was the bumper of a Parisian cab, a smash that occurred exactly 10 years ago this month. But beyond the grave of the Dead Boys, and flanked by a fruitless solo power-pop trip (Disconnected) and the scarcely great Lords of the New Church, Bators formed the luckless Wanderers with three guys from preeminent fist-hoisters Sham 69. The Wanderers' sole album was completed the month Lennon died (December 1980) and released in March the following year. 'Twas not a pretty time for aging punk rockers, and this Captain Oi! release marks the first appearance of Only Lovers Left Alive on CD.
Plagued by faux strings, tin-eared production and hokey Orwellian themes partially inspired by one Dr. Peter Beter -- who in the late 1970s sold doomsday tapes at 60 bucks a pop that warned of looming destruction by Russian particle beam weapons and the manifestos of anti-Christian zealots -- Only Lovers Left Alive shows a band attempting to shirk antiquated zip-gun punk and transcend the mushrooming popularity of the synth-pop preeners and glitter beat swashbucklers who ruled the U.K. pop charts at the time.
Oppressive synths criminally douse the right-hand luster of Dave Parsons, a guitarist who, save for Steve Jones, is the best Johnny Ramone knockoff to emerge from the summer of hate. Everything else suffers from the kind of heavy-handed, reverb-wallowing knob twisting common to rock records of the era.
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That ain't to say all here is worthless; "Ready to Snap" delivers all the supremo punk promise of the Sham/Dead Boy matrimony; Parsons' alpha-dude riff-a-roma and Bators' scarecrow Iggy-via-New York honk ("I'm on my way I'm ready to snay-uuup") make it one of the 10 best seven-inchers handed in by any of the class of '77. "No Dreams" and "Can't Take You Anymore" hint at Bators' previous pop dabbling from his late 1970s L.A. Bomp bit. "The Times They Are a-Changing" reverses Dylan and foreshadows the Alarm by a good couple of years with its hammy, souped-up folk -- goofy keyboard solo notwithstanding. The last train to selloutsville is the (un)ironic "Sold Yourself for Fame," which jumbles piano trinkles and Southern rock leads (yikes!) with Bators' going for broke with a real stateside radio-ready delivery. If nothing else, the sellout is somehow touching. It's the sound of four guys trying to make something of themselves, to prove that life could exist beyond simple snot-nosed revolt.