Back In The USA



by Pedro B. USER (364 Reviews)
June 29th, 2010 | 3 replies

Release Date: 1970 | Tracklist

Review Summary: And now to something completely different.

”Okay kids, it’s rockin’ time!” This simple sentence, uttered by Rob Tyner in Back In The USA’s first and only single Tonight, is a good illustration of the MC5’s state of mind going into their second record. After presenting themselves to the world with the raw, revolution-tinted sonic orgy that was Kick Out The Jams, the group found themselves moving up in life, eventually signing with Atlantic, after being dropped by Elektra due to the proficient cursing on their debut album. Under the wing of debuting producer Jon Landau, the group didn’t take long to release their second album, 1970’s Back In The USA. And the least that could be said was that it constituted a surprise.

In fact, this sophomore effort is far from the unrestrained wildness of Kick Out The Jams, instead shoehorning the group into a tamer, more restrained studio format. However, even in this more sterile environment, Tyner, Kramer and Co still made sure that their revolutionary ideals and lifestyle shone through, even if they had to convey it through less explicit means.

The chosen path was to make this an album about the wilderness of youth, replacing the profanity-laden political tirades with peppy celebrations of what it means to be young. Where Kick Out The Jams showed the MC5 as a free-thinking revolutionary force, Back In The USA shows them as young men, doing what all young men are wont to do – have fun, party, and celebrate the best years of their lives. The lyrics to songs such as Tonight, High School or Shakin’ Street are well indicative of this, while Teenage Lust provides the perfect description of a teen male’s hormonal woes, and Let Me Try is the drippy, insincere attempt at wooing a girl through stereotypical words of romance.

Similarly, the chosen style this time around is significantly different from the one on Kick Out The Jams. Gone are the abrasive guitar clanging and trippy jam sections, replaced with bouncy drumming, sweeping piano runs and explicit 50’s rock’n’roll influences. It’s as though MC5 set out to do a tribute album to their influences, with nearly every song owing more to Chuck Berry and Little Richard – both of whom get nods via cover songs - than to anything proto-hard rock. In a way, this album harks back to the very early works of MC5’s contemporaries, the Rolling Stones and The Who, whose early albums also featured a seemingly well-behaved, yet somewhat subversive brand of rock’n’roll. The end result, while a very small notch below Kick Out The Jams, is undoubtedly as satisfying.

The very small step separating this album from its predecessor is related to a single, very simple factor: unlike the seminal 1969 album, Back In The USA presents a couple of weaker tracks. In spite of its admittedly tongue-in-cheek nature, Let Me Try is horribly syrupy, and, at four and a half minutes, interminable, in an album where most songs barely reach the two and a half minute mark. Similarly, Human Being Lawnmower, the band’s only sonic nod to their previous album, is a rather unremarkable song. Tracks such as Call Me Animal, Looking at You and Tonight, on the other hand, settle for merely being listenable, but still manage to sit above-average.

However, all of those songs pale in comparison to the standouts. At its best, this album sizzles just as much, if not more, than Kick Out The Jams, albeit in a different way. Whether it’s the simple, cracking retelling of Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti, the old-style rebellious lyrics of The American Ruse, the simple, catchy High School or the vibrant Shakin’ Street, this album’s strongest moments are among the best pop-rock songs ever crafted, and will constitute a delight to anyone who crosses their path. When combined with the aforementioned decent songs, they help form an undeniably strong pack, which more than makes up for the occasional drab moment.

In the end, then, Back In The USA may not be as impacting as Kick Out The Jams, or even as cohesively consistent, but it is still undoubtedly an excellent record. Unfortunately, the MC5 were not long due in the music scene, releasing a single other album before disbanding. Anyone who listens to their first two releases will agree that it was a major loss – the world could use more bands like this.

Recommended Tracks
High School
The American Ruse
Shakin’ Street

Recent reviews by this author
Green Day SaviorsMetallica 72 Seasons
Black Math Horseman Black Math HorsemanBlack Math Horseman Wyllt
Slipknot The End, So FarPixies Doggerel
user ratings (151)
other reviews of this album
Zmev (4.5)
The MC5 pick up the pieces after their rowdy live debut and continue to deliver premium rock under t...

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 29th 2010


Monty Python reference ftw.

June 29th 2010


Album Rating: 3.0

this is a lot better than Kick Out the Jams, which is pretty overrated

October 27th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Good review. But I don't agree with Looking at You just being an above-average song. I think it's the best song on the album.

You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile


Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Site Copyright 2005-2023
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy