Monday, April 14, 2008
No. 451: Back in the U.S.A.
Album: Back in the U.S.A.
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The middle of the Motor City Five's three albums is also the band's cleanest-sounding. Though it is more political than "Kick Out the Jams," the record shows more of the band's clear influences -- American blues rock -- than any other MC5 record.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: I can appreciate the political songs, but the album's sound isn't as raw and therefore not as distinct. In short, many of these songs would be fine on the Nuggets box. (Yes, I know I've said that before.)
Best song: "Teenage Lust" is fun.
Worst song: "Let Me Try." No good.
Is it awesome?: Nope.
"Back in the U.S.A." producer Jon Landau was a huge fan of 1950s rock and its clean sound. When he was doing this record, he made it his goal to shed the band of its noisey roots. The result is a pretty accessible record, though it was hated at the time.
The album starts and ends with covers and both songs are nice. "Tutti Frutti" is a frenetic tear through the Little Richard classic and the title track is a fine cover of the Chuck Berry classic. Both songs show the band's straight musical ability.
The political songs -- one could argue that "Back in the U.S.A" is a political song when done by the MC5 -- are clever, with "The Human Being Lawnmower" a strong indictment of America's Vietnam policy. "The American Ruse" is more broad, but similarly anti-1970s foreign policy.
The MC5 is still the MC5, so the protopunk remains, albeit in a restrained form. "Teenage Lust" is kind of silly, but tons of fun. "High School" has similar roots, though is less than "Teenage Lust." "Shakin' Street" is pretty good, but shallow.
The MC5, in a lot of ways is a lesser Nirvana. The band was looked upon as one of the standard-bearers of an entire movement -- psych protopunk -- while it was solely a lucky piece of the movement's pie.