Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flash Metal Suicide, The Weaklings

The Weaklings
Just The Way We Like It
Junk Records, 1999

I have fond memories of the whole late 90's rock n' roll explosion. The Supersuckers' "Evil Powers Of Rock n' Roll", Tricky Woo "Sometimes I Cry", Turbonegro's "Apocalypse Dudes", Man's Ruin, Gearhead, Estrus, In The Red and all the similar labels and bands on those imprints. Junk Records was putting out some great records too, and they may have been the most consistently sleazy and dirty label at the time--which says alot. Here at Sleazegrinder, I think that the consensus is that there's a belief that all of that stuff still rules supreme, despite all the attention towards all the next Hives wannabes and the Mooney Suzuki's major deal and whatnot that came around then, and the subsequent ignoring of the real true underbelly of the rock n' roll world.

Back then, I really thought that those bands had a shot at breaking through to the bigger mainstream audiences, maybe, just maybe the true rock n' roll, the spirit in the stuff that happened in the 40's and 50's, would actually crack through. Alas, it wasn't to be, but I really thought that whole movement was gonna be huge, and I really think that it should have because of the unifying power of rock n' roll--but most people's idea of good party music is a lame dance beat and something where you're not actually listening to the music. It's weird how it transpires that way. The big labels can't control the true rockers and rock n' roll bands, because they're
destined to self destruct. Though i'm a rookie here at Sleazegrinder, I relate to "my/our" era of music. It's tough to give up, and i'd never give it up anyways, but sometimes you question why you're doing something when people wonder when you're gonna get a "real" job.

That reminds me of the time that Bradly Wayne Shaver--vocalist of Portland's The Weaklings--told me that they'd went through a few drummers and a few van breakdowns on a tour. That's the shit that no one tells you about on a Guitar Hero game, where everyone's just entranced by the rock n' roll dream of millions of dollars and limos and babes and whatnot. That's not the reality for most bands. That stuff can kill bands dead right there--either aiming too high and not getting it, or just having crazy bad luck while you're trying to get to gigs to get out there to a wider audience.

"rock n' roll shows...
one night stands...
barely got enough money for our gas...


We're gonna drive all day....
we broke twenty seven laws in the town we just played...
we're gonna drive all day...
they tried to stop us with a roadblock but we got away..."

--"It's So Criminal"

My introduction to The Weaklings--perhaps one of the most underrated bands of the whole burgeoning rock n' roll movement at that time-- was through a disc in the used cd store. It was called "Just The Way We Like It", and it had a guy on the cover that looked like he had a bleeding chest, and came out in 1999 (somehow a magical year for underground rock records for me). I looked at the back of the cd, and it said "produced by Conrad Uno", and had song titles like "Hot Cars, Strip Bars, Rock n' Roll". It also said "Junk Records" on the back. Without hearing a note of the music, I took a risk on the cd without actually hearing it. I think it was 8 bucks or something like that. The Conrad Uno thing was a big factor, since he'd produced some Supersuckers and Mudhoney albums in the early 90's. See, that's what liner notes and cd covers can do--today's badly tagged MP3's can't compete with that, I think. It becomes a sound file without any perspective. But really, I don't think that I ever would have otherwise heard them.....maybe I would have read some reviews of the albums or their later albums in places (such as the review of "Rock n' Roll Owes Me" at Sleazegrinder), but whether they would have registered with me, I dunno. There were tons of those Stooges/ MC5/ AC/DC bands back then, so it got to be hard to hear every last one of them.

I wasn't disappointed and this was one hell of an album! Like, holy shit. There's very few albums that have knocked me out completely like this one does, due to the attitude, the catchiness, and the sheer swagger that they have. And it still does. They really live the music that they play, Bradly really does have a right to write a song like "Burnt Bridges and Broken Dreams", surviving in the shitty run down bars and living life perhaps a little too close to the edge, getting fired from another job for maybe partying too hard or whatever. He told me in a phone conversation a few years back--with the answering machine message as the opening bars of the Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"-- that a boss was reluctant to let Bradly indulge in too much of the nightly lifestyle, "...we both know that you won't show up for work, Bradly". Plus, the band name is so contradictory and self degrading, that you'd never suspect this band of being capable of this. When I say that this motherfucker lays down a trail of smashed beer bottles, swung microphones, blood and sweat and like almost none other, I mean it. I love the Dead Boys, I love the Stooges, I love the Who, but for sheer absolute punk rock power, merged with the 50's attitude (guitarist Mark Rhemrev makes no bones about his Chuck Berry worship), i'm not sure that this can be beat. There's no "Not Anymore", no "Gimme Danger", no "Miss X", the closest that these guys ever get to a slow song is a mid tempo boogie shuffler, but even that's far from being slow. It's all attitude in every possible moment, all energy and bluesy Iggy growls and hoots and hollers.

As a matter of fact, that's what makes this band this great--the economy of the playing and even the ferocity in a bluesy chug type of track. There's no filler and it all does it's damage from 1 and a half minute to 3 minutes per song, there's not alot of flash, but there's also alot of excellent musicianship of where to emphasize riffs or drum hits and whatnot to create good dynamic and good punch (i'll write more on this later on in this writeup). But when it slows the tempo down a few notches, it still has attitude, swing and groove. That's not always easy to do.

The album starts off with "Ain't Got No Skin Left", amidst a rock n' roll noise ending type of intro before the main riff comes in, a stop/ start thing that they do alot on this record. It's an excellent opener. Next up is "All The Way Everynight Every Day", another ode to the rock n' roll lifestyle. Like AC/DC and alot of my favorite bands, The Weaklings write songs about being in a band, because it's really all they know how to do. None of this deferred "We Will Rock You" or "There's Gonna Be Some Rocking" (ever notice most songs are about rocking someone in the future?), Bradly and the band are saying "we've rocked you, we're rocking you right now, and we most certainly will be rocking you in the future because it's all we fucking do". Like Sleazegrinder the man himself knows, the followup to this album, "Rock N' Roll Owes Me" (reviewed here years ago as previously mentioned) was a monster of a rock n' roll album. The band gets by on attitude, but it's not blind attitude: the music has got groove and swing--and catchiness--to match it's power. It's everything that I think that GG Allin wanted to be on record, whereas the Weaklings match both live performance night after night and the recordings to back it up. The gang vocals in the choruses on the record really help, too--Bradly's no master singer (mostly gruff boozy yelling and whooping it up), but he's helped out on the choruses for extra anthemic potential.

"That Gurl Of Mine" starts off with power chords rung out, accentuated by drum parts slamming in at the same time. They do this alot on the record and it makes it heavier without actually being heavy, sort of increasing the tension and power of the rhythm itself. Here our frontman says, "...I don't get jealous, I don't get mad, because i'm the best fuck that you ever had, I ain't bragging that's what you said, out of breath smoking a cigarette in my bed". And that's just a Monday night for him, we're not talking Saturday night here, either. "Elizabeth's Gone" has a Cramps-ish riff, and "Did Nothing Wrong" may be one of the best "band behind the band" lyrics that i've ever heard (and referring to The Weaklings' near Spinal Tap situation with drummers--I think they'd went through 20 drummers or something like that):

"all this gossip, all this shit...
too much rock n' roll made them quit...
49 members still singing the songs...
people don't know why I don't just move along....

this is drummer number 56...
he's so good at beating on his kit....
how long will it last, I don't know...
until it breaks we gotta go, go, go..."

You know, it's saying that the people around him are wondering when he's gonna give this rock n' roll thing up. He can't, it controls him, it forms the basis for who he is.

"It Ain't Gonna Happen Tonite" (a faster version than the version on "Rock N' Roll Owes Me") and" "Could've Told Ya" deal with the problems of being in a relationship, but ironically, Bradly sees maybe the futility in both romance and one night stands, even if he's maybe a romantic at heart. He knows "...you've got more to give than a sore crotch..." in "Could've Told Ya", but she's gonna play him anyways. And maybe he won't remain faithful either. But it's the courtship, I guess, the thrill of the catch.....but then he knows that this ideal situation "....it ain't gonna happen tonight". "Just Gettin' By" is my favorite song on the record, a Ramones-y/ Berry rocker that has probably the best chorus (the boogie 12 bar licks at high speed at this point still haven't stopped), and perhaps the most apt lyric on the record for maybe it's existence: "....got no reason baby don't know why, just tryin--tryin--just gettin' by". Hey, you don't always have to have a plan, sometimes you just need to do it.

"Burnt Bridges And Broken Dreams" gets into exactly what the title says:

"No more money, no more steam...
ain't nothin' left but the shattered pieces of a broken dream...
no more money, no more steam...
nothin' in this world means a goddamn thing..."

It's probably the heaviest, most menacing sounding song on the record, but it falls into the
category of the slow boogie songs that still kick much ass--if not more--at half the
speed of the punkier ones. Credit drummer Steve "The Kid" Mickelson, who is much more than just another in The Weaklings' never ending drum throne changes--he hits behind the beat, giving the songs more space to groove, and he's always doing some fills or stops and starts here and there, and tom breaks and things like that, which add some dimension to what the more casual listener would say, "hey, these songs all sound the same!". Plus, bassist Casey J Maxwell is clearly no hack, either--all the bass lines are melodic and compliment the songs
well and are skilled, without turning into overkill. As Mark often doubles up the guitar parts, the solos are often left intentionally without a rhythm track behind them. Iommi did this alot in Sabbath, he'd double track the leads, instead of putting a rhythm guitar part behind them. In that sense, Maxwell steps up ably--the bass lines are fat and fill in that slight space that's missing during lead breaks in a one guitarist band. How about the quieter parts in "All The Way
Everynight All Day"? Where they take it down to a gentle shuffle with bass and drums, and then build it back up again? You don't hear that type of stuff on most similar records, and it's easy to overlook that stuff, because the band does it so well that they can do that and bring it down and then bring it back up again.

But that also gives the record it's excellent live feel--you get the impression that this band is set up live, and it really does sound like they're recording live (you can hear them play the intro to "Did Nothin' Wrong" in the outro fadeout to "That Gurl Of Mine", so it was like they'd played songs continuously live in the studio with maybe just vocals and second guitar being overdubbed). This is a band that is skilled enough to create something beyond your average garage rock punk, but also never flashy enough to be too showy. I speculate that's exactly why they didn't do too well even in the rock n' roll resurgence in that era--they were garagey and simplistic but they also were enough cock rock to alienate themselves from the garage purists (trust me, there were tons--if you didn't sport a mod cut and record on crappy equipment they hated you), and maybe they weren't cock rock enough and too primitive, too punk rock for the buttrock crowd.

Finishing out the album is "Hot Cars, Strip Bars, Rock n' Roll", a truly smoking track. And if you name a song like this, you'd better not be half assed.... and there's no way that this is half assed. Based on a rockabilly drum shuffle, Bradly sings "rim jobs, blow jobs Impalas and Cadillacs....shoot my searing load right down your trap....turn up the Stones on the radio,
'Stop Breakin' Down' my number one, baby, don't you know....aooww". What I like is how Mickelson goes from the shuffle to a powerful, ballsy and energetic 4/4 drum part in the chorus, giving it some dynamic and variance.

Lastly, Conrad Uno's production here is truly awesome. For an underground record that no one much heard of, it has the sound of a big major production. It sounds just about as good as "Back In Black", mix-wise. This completes my triumvirate of "songs/ execution/ production". The result is a record where I can truly say that you need to turn it up loud....and on a great stereo where you can hear the bass drum and bass guitar well. It sounds good still on a bad stereo, but it really opens up on a great stereo, it's one of those few records where the sounds and tones have such musicality to them.

Like Junk Records themselves who went under (Bradly told me that only the Dragons and The Weaklings were touring their albums on Junk...I think that Nitro pulled their distro/ funding and that was that), i'm not really sure what's up with The Weaklings these days, if they even exist at all. Photos of the band are pretty rare--I scrounged all of these ones up from their MySpace site (which hasn't been logged into in over a year...), and I know for a fact that there was an awesome photo of Bradly bleeding at the Las Vegas Shakedown, but that one seems to have disappeared from the internet, completely.

But ultimately, this album still lives on and really, you can't kill rock n' roll anyways no matter how much you kick it around. Even 10 years later. This is still in my top rock n' roll albums of all time; when you think of pure rock n' roll power, few can beat this one.

-Ry Crooder
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