Review Summary: A drug-fueled "testimonial" to the genius of a sadly short-lived band.
When rock’n’roll came about in the late 50’s and early 60’s, it was seen as outrageous, loud, lewd music sure to lead teenagers down a bad path. However, subsequent decades would prove that those early forms of rock music were, in fact, tame and even somewhat cute. Throughout the sixties and into the seventies, rock got harder, louder and more dangerous, eventually leading to the appearance of new labels, such as hard rock and punk. Leading this (r)evolution were gap-bridging bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground and MC5.
Fronted by singer Rob Tyner and guitarist Wayne Kramer, MC5 initially distinguished themselves from their peers due to their heavily politicized message. Concerts looked more like rallies than musical events, and the band were not beyond a little free-thinker preaching, which was in part what helped draw the youth of the time to them. However, as much as they invested in political proselytizing, the band didn’t forget the musical side of things either, as exemplified by their seminal debut album Kick Out The Jams
At first, it may come as a surprise to find that Kick Out The Jams
is, in fact, a straight recording of one of the group’s concerts. In retrospect, however, it makes sense, since the stage was where the group appeared at their wildest, loudest and most relevant. The symbiotic nature between the group’s hard-edged rock sound, their chemistry with each other and their rapport with the public is what makes Kick Out The Jams
what it is, and further albums would prove that studio recordings couldn’t quite capture the raw energy the band emanated.
The show itself is introduced by a preacher character, who after a rallying speech announces ”a testimonial…the MC5!!”
. The band then come crashing through the speakers with opener Ramblin’ Rose
, which already establishes the dichotomy between Kramer’s clangy, angular riffs and the hint of melody provided by Rob Tyner’s vocals. As for the song itself, it sounds like what The Darkness would sound like if they took themselves seriously, and shows that Justin Hawkins’ vocal style was not, in fact, all that original. All in all, a good start, but the good news is it only gets better from here.
In fact, it can be truthfully argued that there are no weak songs on Kick Out The Jams
. Heck, even weaker moments
are in short supply, with the orgasmic interlude on I Want You Right Now
being the only time the album threatens to bore the listener. Everything else is an immensely pleasant rocket ride, with some clear standouts interspersed throughout. Surprises are sprung at every corner, with styles ranging from the band’s own Stones-on-acid sound to the straight-up blues of Motor City Is Burning
and the nearly pop stylings of the title track. The cohesive trait is the loopy genius of it all, something which would never again be captured on an MC5 album.
But as much as songs like Borderline
or Come Together
are pleasing to listen to, the two clearest standouts of this album are the two most opposite tracks on it. Kick Out The Jams
is a short, sweet, crazed-pop ditty, with a memorable sing-along chorus and driving rhythm typical of the time; Starship
, on the other hand, is a nine-minute acid trip that would make Hawkwind proud, going from a straightforward hard rock sound to a genius “countdown” sequence, through a Middle Eastern chant, until finally reaching the final, explosive climax, leaving only Tyner’s spoken-word ramblings as the record draws to a close. Overall, these two songs, and particularly Starship
, only go to show the extent of MC5’s genius, and help boost up an already excellent album.
All in all, then, Kick Out The Jams
is highly recommended to all rock historians, and those who can take a pinch of chaos in their music. With a band evidently on some drug-fueled alternate dimension (notice how, in between songs, the frontman always says each sentence twice, as if to confirm his own words) an incensed audience, and the raw audio spark only a really good live performance generates, and which no amount of studio tinkering can reproduce, this debut deservedly became one for the ages. The MC5, however, would not repeat the experience, instead opting to experiment with new things for their other two studio albums. And while those experiments wouldn’t go too bad, they would eventually contribute to the quick fizzling of a band which seemed poised to take over the world through acid-fueled activist ranting. Let Kick Out The Jams
be their testimonial, then. ”Brothers and sisters, are you ready to testify"”
Kick Out The Jams