Review Summary: Scuzz n' Fuzz
It’s strange to think that only fifteen years after Mick Collins’ The Gories baptized what would become garage punk in the late 80’s, the White Stripes would initiate its first commercial revival. Mind you, garage punk at its outset was a reductive field, taking soul music, early rockabilly, kitsch bands from the 60’s, and traditional rock n’roll, mashing it together and running it through a meat mincer. The recordings of these first groups, underfinanced, devoid of big league backing and shoddily-executed, spoke little of the fiery live shows that the bands would put on, playing dives and baby slots on the festival circuit, before retreating back to civilian jobs in the winter months.
Those savage beginnings seem especially removed from the lacquered results that the genre would suffer from in the 21st century. Which is why it’s all the more important to pay proper due to the first bands that began cooking up those mutant rock concoctions. Before Jack White, Jay Reatard or Ty Segall embraced the psychotic work ethic of kicking off a band, cutting a few 7-inches and a full-length, and then splitting, only to form under a new name a half-year later, there were Greg Cartwright and Jack Yarber of Memphis, Tennessee, who in 1993, in Ramones-like fashion became Greg and Jack Oblivian.
For all intents and purposes, and discounting all the live bootlegs, innumerable singles, split EP’s and collaboration tapes, Popular Favorites
is Oblivians’ third record. The album is as good an introduction to the band as any of their output can be. Short schizoid rock songs that sound like Elvis gone snow-blind.
The band dive into punk rock modalities headfirst, and aside from Do the Milkshake
and Bad Man
, none of the songs clock in at more than two minutes. They manage to cram three verses and two buzzing solos into Brownie McGhee’s Christina
, and Trouble
is such a compressed cluster of electric euphoria that it’s viable to split at the seams at any moment.
lurches forward relentlessly, a steady rhythmic march, with Cartwright drowning himself in riffing in the background. Elsewhere, on Pinstripe Willie
, his guitar is brought down low in the mix, so what’s left at the forefront is that howl and a convulsing crunch.
For all their depravities, these songs are caked in the romantic melancholy of 50’s RnB and Southern spirituals. Underneath its distorted spasms, Bad Man
is a dejected cry, with Cartwright yelping “I’m a bad man. But I’m too good for you. ” The song crackles with shaky reverb that’s almost wild enough to obscure the depressive subject matter. These desolate themes would find more life in the countless spin-off groups that band members delved into once Oblivians finally imploded. Compulsive Gamblers, Reigning Sound, Jack-O and the Tennessee Tearjerkers, the Tip-Tops and many others cut Oblivians’ frenetic tendencies with saccharine organs and smooth guitars that stuck far closer to the original Memphis sound.
The band would record another full-length before splitting up and fanning out into all their aforementioned projects, before reuniting in 2013 to accompany The Gories on a reunion tour, a ‘winning’ lap around all that their sound had helped create without reaping any tangible benefits. Another album, and Oblivians vanished again, reappearing for free concerts intermittently, constantly recording under different names, floating from one indie label to another, growing older and slower, and still ripping up those live shows. What they managed to capture on Popular Favorites
, which is really yet to occur elsewhere in the volatile garage band niche, is just how joyously evil and debauched those live shows were.
is what the White Stripes would have sounded like if underneath all that colossal riffage, Jack White wasn’t such a namby pamby.