Review: The Great Shakes – S/T

Before I even dropped the debut release from The Great Shakes into my CD player, I imagined how much fun I could have with the lede of my review alone: “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sad to report that the latest release from Rich and Sexy, Inc. is, indeed, no great shakes.” Imagine my surprise when The Great Shakes exploded out of my stereo speakers with some of the sharpest and most vicious trash and punk rock I’ve heard from a young band in a long time.

Like many of their contemporaries who place the requisite “The” before their names, The Great Shakes perform a snotty, high-octane brand of trash-punk that depends on jagged electric guitars and snarled vocals as much as it does on pure venom and attitude. The Great Shakes seem to one-up a lot of their peers, however, because they manage to inject incredible dynamics and sonic depth into work that, all too often, depends solely on the mind-boggling fury of a crunchy two-guitar attack.

The band sets the tone for the record’s first moments with “Duty Free,” a moderately paced number that kicks and screams but also reveals more than its fair share of musical complexities. Underneath the band’s vocals, which are more spit than they are sung, there are two guitars weaving disparate and surprisingly emotive lines. All the palm muting and choppy chords make the choruses seem bulked-up and tough, sure, but the sound that keeps much of the song’s blood flowing is that second guitar line, a meandering wail that pops in and out of various parts of “Duty Free.” The song is an incredible illustration of how the band crafts hard-hitting rock that, for all its adherence to the basics of garage rock, is far from sophomoric or stripped-down.

“Duty Free” is followed in quick succession by the trashy “Want/Got,” which could be at home on Estrus wax, and the rock anthem “Going All Night.” These songs both have a depth and precision to them, but they’re also at the core of what The Great Shakes seem to do best. Sure, it’s easy to talk about how a band is reprocessing or putting a new spin on early Stones or Stooges or The Clash, or how they’re paying homage to 70’s punk.

It’s also important to make one thing clear: These guys rock, and they don’t hesitate to remind you of that fact quite frequently. “Going All Night” may be one of the most energetic rock songs you’ll hear all year, a classic example of how a few guitars and a catchy chorus can force you to jump up and down.

“Going All Night” bleeds into “We Do As We Please,” a strange example of how The Great Shakes are about more than just three-chord punk energy. The song’s chorus is as angry as it is angular, but its verses are a quirky patchwork of spacey dueling guitars and dissonant bass measures. Before vocalist Darren spits out the line “America the Beautiful was never really useful,” a listener might almost feel like Brainiac’s Timmy Taylor was still alive and well and kicking, having traded in his Moog and his lyrical Surrealism for a well-worn leather jacket and a pack of smokes.

The record closes, all too soon, with “Let it Go,” a fuzzed-out piece where the band bursts at the seams and Darren’s vocals grow increasingly furious. It’s one of the record’s sharpest moments when, just like it did on the incredible “Going All Night,” a backing vocal supports Darren before he launches into an acid-tongued refrain, snarling “You’ve got to let it go, not fade away.” The song ends quickly, and the listener is left with just a moment of afterglow, the sounds of two guitar amps, juiced up and cranked up, waiting for the next blasts of noise.

A lot of people could write this stuff off as revisionist and say it’s not doing anything for the soul of rock n’ roll that Iggy didn’t do when he first exploded on the stage 20 or 30 years ago. There could be some credence to that. Then again, if one of the functions of guitar-driven rock n’ roll is to get you moving, this record most certainly lends more than its fair share to the canon. And when was the last time you said that about a five-song debut from a virtual unknown? – Delusions of Adequacy, Jan. 25, 2003

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