Review Summary: Recorded in 1974, but released in 2009, it might have been a classic.
So it turns out Bad Brains weren't the first truly great black rock band after all.
Originally recorded in 1974, Death's ...For the Whole World to See
is only seeing the light of day now, in 2009, thanks to Drag City. The question that immediately needs asking is why it didn't see release at the time - and I'm not so sure the answer is as obvious as racism. After all, the recording quality's pretty good, so it's not like they didn't have any money or backing at all. What's more likely is poor timing. Death missed out on being part of the frenzied peak of garage rock by three or four years, while they were three or four years too early for the punk explosion, too - move this album either forward or back and it'd probably have been a widely acclaimed cult favourite, because it slots perfectly into both time periods, bridging a gap between them. Indeed, I'd say that the Buzzcocks were a bigger influence on this than The Stooges, were it not for the fact that this was recorded four years earlier.
Like Bad Brains, Death also have a line in drawing black music into their sound, although they turn to soul and electric blues rather than reggae, and they're a lot more seamless with it. "Let the World Turn" is the most obvious example, since it starts in completely non-punk territory before launching into an untidy chorus, but throughout it's reminiscent of the soul-fueled Detroit garage rock revivalists of the past decade, The Dirtbombs especially. It's probably not so surprising, since The Stooges and MC5 weren't exactly strangers to soul either, but what moves into different territory is the melody. I can't remember hearing a punk album as catchy as this in a long time; The Ramones and Buzzcocks were much acclaimed for their pop nous but neither made anything as consistently memorable as this. Despite their depth and political outlook, these songs are so immediate that they could have slotted seamlessly alongside acts like Bad Religion and Millencolin on any of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
The obvious cynical response to this is to say that nobody would care about this album if it had been released at the time; that context, rather than any musical quality, makes it special. That argument falls down you consider that ....For the Whole World to See
takes everything that anybody could possibly want from a punk album, and brings it all to the table. This is just a breathless, endlessly entertaining rock album that seems incapable of having a flaw.