Wednesday, December 19, 2007

No. 286: Los Angeles

Band: X
Album: Los Angeles
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: West Coast punk rock owes a lot to X's "Los Angeles." If nothing, the band's sound was more accessible than the later hardcore that came from that scene.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I'm both too young and too disinterested to enjoy this stuff.
Best song: The title track is pretty good and their cover of "Soul Kitchen" is pretty cool.
Worst song: "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: It's distinct sound, but I can't get totally behind it.

My knowledge and passion for punk rock is basically nil, so I can't really speak to the greatness of this album. It's catchy and it's fun. I enjoyed listening to it, if only for the band's version of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen." It still has a little bit of the original's melody while keeping the punk band's speed.

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist from The Doors, produced this record and it shows. Unlike most punk records, an organ makes some serious appearances. That was probably the most striking thing for me.

It's not hardcore, which is the angle from which I always see California punk rock. There's a fair amount of hooks and catchyness, the title track being the great example. Nevertheless, it's a good one.


For what it's worth, I find Exene Cervenka to be attractive and would make out with her -- even at 51 -- if she asked me.


padraig said...

Since you obviously to have a pretty firm grasp on/appreciation of post-punk and at least a solid handle on hardcore (in it's initial punk form circa 81-85 or so before it shattered into a thousand disparate pieces) I'm guessing that when you claim to have a lack of knowledge about "punk rock" you mean the Clash, Wire's first album etc. - or, in its' LA incarnation, the Germs, X and the Weirdos et al. Fair enough, although I was kind of surprised by your lukewarm reaction to X, given that they could be seen as one of the antecedants to the more cerebral side of the hardcore/post-punk/indie equation of the the 80s a la Husker Du + their SST buddies, the Embrace/Rites of Spring transition of harDCore to emo (before that was a dirty word) and especially the Pixies. Tell me you can't hear Exene/John Doe in Frank Black and Kim Deal's exchanges (not to mention Joey Santiago's also DK-influenced guitar). Although I guess you're not so big on the Pixies...
Sure, Los Angeles is pretty much a pop record - there's that famous Richard Meltzer quote about X being "the only punk band with half a chance at commercial success in America today" - but it's a helluva pop record. I guess what really does it for me is the post-Beat lyricism plus Billy Zoom's twisted take on rockabilly and Chuck Berry - contrary to most punks before and since he had a been a professional musician playing everything from soul and R&B to acid rock for like 20 years and his professional craftsmanship really shines.
Actually I feel kind of silly writing a review of "Los Angeles" given I listen to pretty much all hip hop, grime/dubstep and black metal, but it's one of the few punk rock records I still listen to and enjoy immensely now and again. Just my take.

Keep up the good work.

Garry Shuck said...

Wow, your reaction to this is a bit stunning for me as well. I've been reading along for several months now, but seeing your lukewarm opinion of this, based on what you seem to like and dislike , not to mention your extensive musical knowledge, was just about the last thing I would have expected (it felt sad, it felt sa-ah-ad...)

Anyway, I'm not sure how much you listen to these albums as you plow through the list, but man, it sure seems like you might have given up on this one a little too quickly. Could be that the situational relevance of hearing this during a particular time and space adds or subtracts more than I think, but man, this is a good one.

Padraig has it right -- Billy Zoom's rockabilly spin is infectious, and Exene and John's interplay really works. And Johnny hit and run Pauline is, in fact, pretty solid stuff.

Ah, well, to each his own. Keep on keepin on.

R.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.J. said...

Before anything else, I wanted to thank you two for commenting. Anyone who reads and has expectations of this silly little project... You are OK in my book.

Anyway, in the hopes of not sounding defensive, I'll address some points.

- When I saw I'm not the world's biggest punk rock fan, I say that most punk just doesn't resonate with me. The speed with which the records are played turns me off; "Soul Kitchen" almost typifies it. It's a Doors record played quickly.

I probably didn't express it well in writing about the Ramones, but punk rock gets real old real quick to my ears. It's similar to jazz in that I can't appreciate it because I don't know it. The difference, though, is that I've been bombarded with punk since my youth, whereas jazz is mostly outside my knowledge base.

"Punk" is a pretty large term, but I'm mostly a fan of Black Flag, The Clash and Minor Threat. Obviously, a lot of stuff that's considered proto-punk and post-punk is more in my wheelhouse, but what is widely considered classical "punk rock" just isn't my thing. Sadly, X fits into this category. There's a real "rockabilly on meth" thing going on and I have never really loved that stuff.

I realize that's a huge limitation and for that, I apologize.

- I am also not the world's biggest Pixies fan, so the Frank Black/Kim Deal comparison, while apt, isn't something that totally appeals to me. I like much of the music that followed the Pixies (Nirvana and the like), but the Pixies themselves don't excite me.

I understand this dates me. I hope not to put on any airs about this; I am 26, so my musical lens is largely colored by grunge and West Coast hip hop.

Overall, I try to put my biases on the line in the "my biases" post I wrote at the start of this whole thing. Part of the joy of this project is hearing new music. But, sometimes, I'm not as open-minded as I'd like to be.

- I'm going to write a short post explaining my procedure when I review each album, but I do listen to every album at least five times. For something like "Los Angeles," I actually listened to it a few more times on the recommendation of a friend and just couldn't find the hook for me to write about.


With all that said... I will try and take another look at both this record and Nick Drake's "Five Leaves Left." Both are records that probably deserve more than I gave them (as has been pointed out) and I will do so when I have some time.

(The breakneck speed of this project sometimes makes for some crappy writing by me.)

Thanks for reading, folks,

By the way, I hope neither of you guys are Dead fans, because I never have anything to say about them and "Anthem of the Sun" comes up tomorrow.

padraig said...

rj - thanks for the response. I absolutely cannot stand the Dead and I detest even moreso the whole jam band circuit they spawned. Actually, the whole frat boy hippie/festival scene and culture are what I really despise - I lived on an organic farm with hippies for a while when I was in high school. Good people, least they didn't ruin reggae and dub for me with the way they wore out "Legends".
And hey man, I respect it if you don't like X. At least you gave em' a chance. From following your project I've gathered that you're probably more of a Big Black/VU guy - hell, I am too. Oh, by the by the woman from The Avengers is another early punk icon who's in her early 50s and still hot, or she at least she was when I saw em' a couple years ago.

ps - just want to mention that I hadn't heard of "twogirlsonecup" before reading it in one of your reviews last week so, also...thanks for that. or not so much. you understand.