Best Albums of 2007 (Numbers 2 and 1!)

January 16, 2008 at 4:40 am (Best-of lists, cool band alert, reviews, rock and roll)

2. The Stabilisers, Wanna Do The Wild Plastic Brane Thing
The Stabilisers first properly-released stateside album ended up in my hands about 2 weeks after I’d fallen under the spell of their labelmates, The Len Price 3. “Oh great, another Medway band on Little Steven’s record label”. At risk of feeling my tastes in music to be too easily pigeonholed, I had every expectations of hating this.

And so yeah, I had it on shuffle, and “She Wants It All The Time” was the first Stabilisers song I’d ever heard, and I found myself thinking “Yeah, I loved that guitar riff back when Stiff Little Fingers and The Buzzcocks did it a thousand times 30 years ago…” But wait a minute here. “She Wants It” suddenly kicks in with a middle 8, and then they do a key change, and then there’s a stop/start…huh. One of the ways a lot of mediocre punk rock loses me is that most punk bands come up with a stomping riff and that’s all they can manage in a song. But here’s The Stabilisers writing 3 minute songs that never quite go where you expect them to, with dynamics and a pulse that seemingly no one else is able to.

One of the reasons I have so little patience for bands that have a sound that recalls some other, earlier rock and roll predecessor is that the new bands always seem to get the sound right, but not the rest. Hell, give any guitarist a Rickenbacker plugged into an AC-30 amp turned up too high, and they’ll sound awesome. Sadly, too many bands get that part down, and that’s good enough for them. Bands that get the sound and the fury and the verve and the spirit and the content all nailed are precious and few; The Exploding Hearts managed all that, but their tragic end pretty much left no one else as good on the scene to pick up for ’em.

Until now. The Stabilisers just completely fucking get it. They get it all. They seem to have grasped with full mind and soul what it was that made The Jam, The Buzzcocks, and The Undertones so amazingly brilliant and beloved, and then they’ve made an album here that doesn’t imitate those artists, but rather taps into that same mystical kick-ass rock and roll magic their forebears also drew upon. You can try to play “spot the influence” on individual Stabilisers songs, but that’s a loser’s game. For one thing, you’re going to miss out on valuable pogo-ing time. For another, just when you think you’ve got ’em nailed down, they’ll throw you completely off your mark with dramatic chord or key or dynamic change that defies such eggheaded knobbish analysis.

What all of that means is, don’t get hung up on the academics on Wanna Do, even though for the rock historian and theorist there’s a lot there to love. Instead, just crank this record as loud as your landlord will possibly let you (ok, headphones if you gotta) and let yourself fall under the spell of riff-rockers like “Wanna” and “Born To Kiss Arse”, or let yourself be rocked into next week by an anthem like the near-perfect “Belinda” or the amazing “The Way She Is” or shake your ass to rumble of “Problem Child” and “My Latest Obsession”. You’ll marvel at the fact that if The Stabilisers were a lesser band, this riff-heavy rock would get sludgy and gludgy and too heavy to be so much goddamned fun, and you might not even care that the reason it doesn’t grind down is that bassist/lead singer Jon Bott turns in one of the landmark performances in the recent history of that instrument by blending with drummer Francis Braithwaite to keep these songs nimble and angular and on the move.

What The Stabilisers do on Wanna Do The Wild Plastic Brane Love Thing seems deceptively easy, but it isn’t, because there are a thousand lesser lights out there who’d kill to be able to claim this disc as their own. The Stabilisers are the original article, a damn near perfect distillation of everything that is great and timeless about rock and roll rolled up into one 13 song testament.

“Belinda”(Video)
“Wanna”(Video)
“Problem Child”
“The Way She Is”
“Latest Obsession”

1. The Blakes, S/T
Like this is a surprise, huh? Anyone attempting to engage me in a conversation about music since May or so has had to endure me yammering on and on about how freaking GREAT The Blakes are. I’m gonna try to tell you why, and I might get wordy.

You can start by mentioning the timeless sound they’ve cooked up. Garnet Keim manages guitar lines that sound as if he’s working over influences from ’50’s rockabilly, Dave Davies, the Velvets, Johnny Thunders, and even a little Peter Buck thrown in. His brother Snow compliments him ably with nimble, twisting basslines, and a more understated vocal counterpoint to Garnet’s rawer, more immediate vocal style. The not-so-secret weapon of The Blakes though is drummer Bob Husak. He plays with a Moon-like ferocity but an Al Jackson-like discipline (those unfamiliar with Stax records can substitute “Charlie Watts” if you like). In other words, he can go nuts with all sorts of original fills, but then find the pocket with a popping snare that dares your body to resist the whipcrack beat.

All that goodness makes for a good band. The Blakes, though, are a great band–in fact, they might be the greatest rock and roll band on the planet right now. So what else is there? There are songs, yo. The expanded, Light In The Attic Records version of this album (a few self-released copies were distributed by the band last year) opens with a headlong rush of seven songs that stand as seven of the best rock and roll songs you’re likely to hear this year….and they just fly off this record, one after another. The amazing thing is, there’s so much variation in those seven tunes that it’s almost as if these fellows showing off. “Two Times” opens the disc with a blazing blast of rock and soul fury, with Garnet Keim in full on wildman vocal mode (note to Allmusic’s clueless reviewer–Garnet’s voice is pitch perfect for this; anyone can lend full, raw vocal power to a song and not carry the tune, but Keim sounds like a 20 year old Mick Jagger on speed here, and–this is important–he’s always on-key and in service to the song). “Don’t Bother Me” is more of a tension-builder, showing off a bit of debt to the postpunks of the ’80’s. “Magoo” rolls with a barrelhouse magic that betrays a freakbeat moddish influence. “Modern Man” is an absolute stunner, with Keim playing an infectious riff over a Stooge-y guitar storm. The majestic “Run” adds a nifty wobbly ’80’s new wave keyboard and shows that these fellas listened to New Order’s Low-Life back in the day (imagine “Love Vigilantes” as interpreted by Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers.) “Commit” is another stunner, and maybe the best single song on the record thanks to Snow Keim’s bass work in the choruses, taking the tune in a completely unexpected melodic direction. “Don’t Want That Now” sounds like a modern update of some long lost Animals classic…

…and then the listless “Lintwalk” breaks the spell a bit. Hey, even Albert Pujols strikes out every once in a while. Thankfully, Snow’s “Vampire” gets things back on track with a song that sounds like nothing so much as The Grifters covering some Cure classic. They follow that with the anthemic, fist-pumping “Lie Next To Me”; if I was in The Strokes, I’d end my career right now, because in 2:47, “Lie Next To Me” does everything that band has ever tried to do over the course of seven years, and does it ten times better. “Pistol Grip” and “Picture” are both fine songs, and the band ends things with a flourish with the elliptical “Streets”, a song awash in weird guitar textures and postpunk attitude…until the chorus comes in and suddenly it turns into a “We Gotta Get Outta This Place” raveup stomp.

The neatest trick The Blakes turn is managing to be so multifaceted. If you need a hooky melody, few pure-pop guitar bands can match “Commit” or “Run”. If you need the punk, “Lie Next To Me” and “Two Times” are the obvious choices, but the whole disc is shot through with a punk-ish DIY energy and rawness that infuses even the introspective moments of this self-titled gem with a gritty toughness that runs far past any trends or poses.

Above all though, this is as much a soul record as it is a rock record. Arrange these songs a little differently, and you can imagine Otis or James Brown belting them out. It has that verve and edge of danger to it, shot through with a relentless beat that invites dancing more than moshing. The Blakes might be one of the most important rock and roll bands in the world, and this record suggests an almost limitless potential. Get on this bandwagon now, because this could be one helluva run.

“Modern Man”
“Two Times”
“Don’t Bother Me”
“Lie Next To Me”
“Run”

2 Comments

  1. allanc said,

    Thanks for the great review of our album. You get it!You might want to get hold of our 2 original albums – write to us at thestabilisers@hotmail.com or at our Myspace site (http://www.myspace.com/thestabilisers).Thanks againThe Stabilisers

  2. steve scariano said,

    THE STABILISERS RULE!!!

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