Key Tracks: “I Don’t Need No Doctor” “Save the Planet”
Does history repeat itself, or do things never change?
Fans of My Bloody Valentine, Guns N’ Roses and the Stooges are breathing a sigh of relief. “At least I’m not a Sonics fan.” “This is the Sonics” now takes the cake as the longest time in between albums. It’s the first album from the band’s original line-up in 49 years, and they play like nothing’s changed. Although the members are now in their 70’s, they’re still playing incendiary pre-punk garage rock.
This album plays like a movie in a series that ignores the films that came before it. The Fast and Furious series ignores Toyko Drift, like the film never happened. Except that in the world of the Sonics, what hasn’t happened is punk, disco, new wave, hip-hop, metal, boy bands, and everything else since “Sgt. Pepper”. The Sonics play like they’re still the forefront of music, something that would be vain if it mattered. In reality, it’s an incredibly refreshing listen. The band blow through 12 garage instant-classics in 32 minutes, each as good as the last.
All of the instruments work off each other on the album – there’s no competition for value. This is partly garage-rock mentality, and partially due to the record being recorded in mono. The producer, the legendary Jim Diamond, does little more than hit the start and stop buttons, just recording the band live. To add any flourishes, or to clean the sound up, would do the band injustice. Instead, the band is recorded as they should be – geared up, roaring with a possibly vampiric energy that some bands can’t match when they’re young.
There’s only really two nods to the fact that the Sonics aren’t still in 1966. The first is the inclusion of horns, something that wasn’t in the band until entirely different iterations of the Sonics played into the 70’s. The other is the late-album “Save the Planet,” which addresses global warming in the most Sonics way possible, by letting us know Earth is the only planet with booze. “Reality’s for people who don’t know how to drink,” Jerry Roslie sings, daring us to ignore his age.
The Sonics still have a cynical edge to their lyrics, a cynicism that separated them from the more party-hardy garage acts of the 60’s. There’s a relatively harmless causal sexism to the lyrics, much like the 60’s, as well as songs like “I Got Your Number,” with “I’ve Got Your Number, and it’s 666” sung in an offhand way. By convincing themselves that 60’s garage rock still wants to be heard, they’ve convinced us that lyrics like this are still surprising. “This is the Sonics” boasts a very 60’s throwaway album title (like “The Who Sings My Generation”), but it’s also very literal – this is them, all these years later. And to anyone that wasn’t around then, this is what they were. And it’s what they still are. 2015 hasn’t stopped throwing surprises at us, and a wholly rocking new Sonics album is something none of us expected.
If you like this, try: early garage rock like this has a big influence on the Burger Records type surf-punk bands, try Japanther at their more direct (“Surfin’ Coffin”).
-By Andrew McNally