The one and only time I saw X was at the Tomorrowland Terrace at Disney World during an event billed as the World Series of Entertainment. If memory serves, Tommy Tutone (“867-5309/Jenny,” of course) and Bertie Higgins (“Key Largo,” as if you don’t remember) were competing on alternate stages, but that night those guys couldn’t give it away. Meanwhile, the X show was packed, mostly with teenage kids in safety pins and mohawks who looked a little tipsy from one too many rides on the Teacups. OK, it was definitely unsettling to hear John Doe and his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Exene Cervenka, belt out “Back 2 the Base” (“Presley sucked on doggie dicks,” don’t you know) in the shadow of Space Mountain, not to mention within earshot of the New Mouseketeers. But if a seminal punk band from L.A. playing the Mouse House in Orlando can’t avail itself of a little ready-made irony, what’s a heaven for?
Since then, X has had more breakups and reunions than a whole month of Sally Jesse, but to mostly dismal effect. The band hasn’t actually written any new songs in a long while, but if X’s last studio album, Hey Zeus!, is any indication, no one should be complaining.
With any luck, then, Original Sinners, Exene’s latest and definitely greatest post-X project, will make any future reunions totally superfluous. The five-piece band brings the singer full circle, reconnecting her powers as a Lydia Lunch-endorsed punk poetess to a long-standing, Southern-fried desire to be the world’s weirdest country singer.
Until now, the Knitters, a wholly owned X subsidiary, were the twangy side project that gave Exene her best shot at getting in touch with her inner coal miner’s daughter. But the group only made one record, 1985’s Poor Little Critter on the Road, and 17 years out, it still sounds pretty mannered—more Ellie Mae than Loretta Lynn, with Exene in the role of slumming country bumpkin.
That’s not a problem on the Sinners’ debut. Exene serves up sour country disharmonies throughout, but the band she’s assembled knows the virtues of no restraint: Most Sinners tracks feel like spasms; the best ones are full-blown seizures. “River City” is the disc’s finest 2:16, a post-thrash “Delta Dawn” goosed hard every step of the way by drummer Mat Young’s shit-kicking wallop. “Who’s Laughin’ Now” is also a blast, with Jason Edge’s elastic slide riffage propelling Exene’s maniacal wail to infinity and beyond (and back). Meantime, album opener “Birds and Bees” rekindles X’s neck-cracking take on the Otis Blackwell classic “Breathless.” Ah. Great lines abound, too, slipping through the cowpunk murk like greased pigs at a state fair. “Whiskey for breakfast/Wished I was in Texas” is a current personal fave, but “My fortune cookie said, ‘My, oh my, oh my’ ” is definitely right up there (both are from the totally X-worthy “Whiskey for Supper”).
Bassist Kim Chi makes a fine harmony sparring partner for Exene, but the instrumentals aren’t throwaways. “Alligator Teeth” and “Mourning After,” penned by guitarist Sam Soto, are lumbering, metallic surf rock, and the frantic album closer, “Tick Tock,” provides great music for running in place really fast. There’s even a bit of backward masking at the end of the track. These days, decoding isn’t as simple as spinning the thing backwards while Dad’s not looking, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got it nailed: It’s the sound of Exene kissing X goodbye.