Well, this is the moment dreaded by every serious “rock writer” . . . Yep, the kind of situation that prevented Greil Marcus from ever hanging out much around the Band’s or Bobby-D’s road crews . . . altho Keith Richards and Nick Kent might have had a slightly different take on the protocol of the responsible performer/historian, musician/journalist relationship . . .
Wait, back it up. I just remembered where I was 16 years ago this very month! I was at the (Boston) Rat, the back of the room watching this very band (Joe King/Queer, with some different Queers), thinking/saying to myself, “Who are the Queers? Hmm, ho, hmm, am I supposed to know who the Queers are?“ Their 7-inch output at that point had barely totaled 1000 copies pressed, and not being a “serious historian,” it never occurred to me to walk up to them and ask, “Hey, who are you guys anyway?”
And not being a serious “rock writer,” during a Friday dinnertime last month there was no law forbidding me from pushing around drum gear at the Queers’ Bay Area club-tour stop (in swap for a one-day “local roadie” slot and a little free food), and later swapping “merch” for “merch” (punk rock guy to punk rock guy), i.e., for a copy of the new Queers CD so I could take it home and play it a lot louder than the vinyl LP could muster. (Had purchased the vinyl a month prior, but modern garbage vinyl pressings are never reliable; even when they sound good like this one, you can’t get sufficient volume.) (And see, you can get new CDs for $4 sealed, if your band has good T-shirts! Tho this theory has yet to be tried out with the A*Teens, whose new album has not shown up yet at the Tower Records or Rasputin Records listening post to determine how much $ it’s worth over-counter . . . may have to just try the Amazon.com samples.)
OK, let’s just skip the fine print and let me tell you how one-of-a-kind good Pleasant Screams is. Strong plurality (close to majority) of a bunch of longtime Queers fans (all musicians from various bands) I ran into at a post–gig weekend Sunset Strip “party’‘ (i.e., someone’s hotel room plus booze and a few females, but no dance music, what the fuck’s so “party” about that? Gonna be a few changes when I run the world next month) thought that this new one is the Queers’ career album—similar to their biggest seller Don’t Back Down in 1996, but better. (I’ve heard everything they’ve ever released, but only about 50% of it was top line until Don’t Back Down.)
Anyway, I would agree with the consensus that not only does the new album rock like a motherfucker top to bottom (14 cuts), but it’s one of the few seamless “rock albums” I’ve ever heard. Pleasant Screams is a 12 on the Queers’ previously established 10 scale, Don’t Back Down being the generous 10 (or, let’s say a 9.2, rounded up on par with inflated SAT scores everywhere) a full six years ago.
I hate this fucking idiot-reviewer shit where they go, “another one that sounds like the other one, yes it’s pretty good” . . . Boy I’m glad those clowns weren’t around to say numskull shit about the early Beatles or the 2nd/3rd Sabbath albums or early BOC. Or, for another example, I was quickly skimming a Grand Funk paperback longform bio at a bookstore last week, and I noticed right off that the band’s very proud (30 years on) of the E Pluribus Funk (w/”Footstompin’ Music”) album! No shit, Jack! And that one certainly did not sound exactly like any “other GFRR album”; minute variations of recorded sound (the guitar in that case) plus wild improvements in songwriting are the things real fans notice. Even in rating Aaron Carter sides/videos I hear it.
Back to Pleasant Screams, THERE IS REALLY NO ALBUM QUITE LIKE THIS IN THE HISTORY OF THE MUSICAL WORLD. “Sounds like the Ramones?” Get the hell out of here, kids, and listen to me close. Five reasons this is the best Beach Boys album since Beach Boys Today: (1) Best rockin’-nasal Mike Love vocals since “Drive-In.” (2) Beach Boys never had hard-rock/punk-rock wall-of-sound guitars like this to back up their prime ’63-’64 material. And they never opened an album with a song trashing their former bass player (rumors of “Brian’s a Fuckin’ Burnout” outtakes to the contrary). (3) “I Never Got the Girl” is the greatest straight-ahead ’64 Beach Boys tune/hook since, well, “I Get Around”/”Don’t Worry Baby” (pick either, pick both). And the outside-writer tunes are stupendously good. I still don’t know where the fuck that Donovan rock song (“You Just Gotta Blow My Mind”) comes from; I’ll bet 50 cents it didn’t sound like that on the original version. But the song that really astonishes me is track #10, “Don’t Want You Hanging Around”—How the fuck’d Ben Weasel write a song that hot? What an astounding model of simplicity and musical oomph—it’s a lyric about his ex-wife bugging him, always a relevant topic to about 50% of the population once you include ex-husbands as well. Riverdales and Screeching Weasel discographies do not show any precedent; I almost suspect Joe King tweaked or rearranged the melody line. Weasel/King did a great job of finishing the half-written Joey Ramone song (“I Wanna Be Happy”) too—it’s 50 times better than anything on that lame metal-brained solo Joey album. (4) Exactly the right ratio of vocal/lyrical obnoxiousness (see: Mike Love) to pop hooks, and of distorted guitar to rockin’ beats. (5) Pet Sounds sucked. (Dave Marsh spared no bones telling the world 30 years ago what a waste of filing space that album was, but the emo people of the world just never take a hint. I’m still waiting for the ’60s Beach Boys comp titled Mike Love Was Right—meaning, TM certainly slightly less worthless than psych drugs, even I will agree on that . . . and car/girls/beer, obviously, no contest. Does anyone seriously think 1951 Chicago blues would have been as rockin’ if Muddy Waters had been tripping on LSD instead of juiced out of his mind on hard liquor? I mean, come on.)
Five reasons this is the best album the Ramones never made: (1) Kickass Mike Love vocals top punk-rock Peter Noone any day. I don’t care if poor fuckin’ Joey’s dead, sorry. But the obvious point is that what the fuck’s Joe King got to do with Joey Ramone (vocally)? Not to mention that ’64 braggart M-Love (as opposed to basketball pro Stan Love from the really bad side of the family) would have made a much better 1977 Ramones lead singer. (2) Short songs, great ’64 Beach Boys/’77 Ramones-derived hooks (à la the “Sheena” prototype, but harder, tighter, punchier), and the flow of this album (beats, BPMs, variations of tempo from track to track) plays like one great long 31-minute song. (3) Killer drumrolls all over the place (in the old previously missed mid-’90s style of Hugh O’Neill, R.I.P.)—they came up with a drummer doing the exact type beats/rolls the old dead drummer had perfected, and he rocks like holy fuck. Since I always dug the Rancid drummer (hired because he looked like someone who’d make a great drummer once he learned the instrument, remember) I have a slight trainspotter track record in this category. The Clash couldn’t play their axes for shit, so they needed a drummer who also couldn’t play, so as not to upstage them. And I think we can count the number of drumrolls in the entire early Ramones discography on less than one finger. (4) When “Babysitter,” “I Wanna Be Your Boy-friend,” and “I Remember You” weren’t hits, the Ramones got confused and never made the album like this one that they should’ve. (5) In actual truth, Rocket to Russia is half snooze city.
So hey, take your Grammys, and Bammies and Wammies and Mama Wama Kin-or-Can’t Jammies, and forget ’em. I’ve got my own award to give out. Joe King/Queer: the Ralph Stanley of American punk rock, timeless and ageless.