Threats/External Menace/Really Red CD reviews [Dr. Strange/Empty]

Music Reviews
Threats/External Menace/Really Red CD reviews [Dr. Strange/Empty]
Apr 13, 2004, 17:36

THREATS Demos and Rarities CD EXTERNAL MENACE The Process of Elimination CD REALLY RED Teaching You the Fear CD

It's been said that no matter how much a music nut's life and tastes may change over the years, he or she will always return to the sounds of his or her youth. And so it is with us when it comes to late 70s/early 80s punk rock, the stuff that fueled many an angst-ridden, high school eve. But at this point in our so-called highly evolved lives, what can possibly be the draw of another batch of Killed By Death-era leftovers? Nostalgia? Morbid curiosity? Or, perhaps, the off chance there might be something here that will defy time and kick our ass as mightily now as it would've back in the day? Hmm…

Threats are a still-extant Scottish four-piece that began as The Reflectors in 1977; the earliest stuff here is a set of '79 demos from just after the band's name change. Singer Jim Threat does passable Johnny Rotten and T.V. Smith impersonations, the drums sound like cardboard, the guitar sounds like our coffee grinder, and the band yells out the two-syllable choruses like Anti-Pasti meeting The Partisans at a soccer match. Brit-punk to the heels, mate. And, dated-sounding as it is, it's sorta funny for, like, 10 minutes. But do you really need three versions of “Afghanistan”? Perhaps you do, punkeroo…

Fellow Scotch outfit External Menace dates from 1979 but didn't record its debut, The Process of Elimination (here reprised with seven bonus tracks), until 1997. While the record's comparatively slick production lacks the vintage shitcan charm of the Threats disc, it does have a modicum of variety thanks to the odd reggae/dub/punk-fusion turn a la The Clash or The Ruts (the latter's “Society” gets covered.) But for the most part this is more standard-issue, early 80s U.K. street punk. And the concept that these guys, now in their balding mid-40s, are still out there playing it is either pathetic or hilarious, depending on our mood.

Besides being a band smart enough to quit while it was ahead, Houston's Really Red laughed in the face of early punk's generic Zeitgeist. Like so many others, our first exposure to these art-core iconoclasts was via “Prostitution” on Alternative Tentacles' seminal 1981 comp, Let Them Eat Jellybeans; indicative of RR's angular, Joy Division-meets-hardcore approach, the cut stood out like a freshly hammered thumb. (Other reference points are P.I.L., the Minutemen, Gang of Four, and Wire.) Frequently political but never preachy, U-Ron Bondage's impressionistic lyrics, delivered in his bizarre, detached bark, stand well above the period's usual mindless screed. For every angry anthem on Teaching You the Fear like “Bored with Apathy” or “White Lies,” there's an out-there excursion like the title track or the amusingly named “No Art.” And after the previous two slabs of cookie-cutter U.K. punk, it's inspiring to hear what a few brave souls in the harsh vacuum of Houston came up with when they finally decided to start their own band. Part of a tradition stretching from the 13th Floor Elevators to the Butthole Surfers, Really Red is yet another sun-fried Texas crew that places high on the list of inventive, damaged rock 'n' roll. Righteously pissed-off, gloriously bent, Teaching You the Fear is 18 crucial reasons why. [Dr. Strange/Empty]

-Peter Aaron

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