Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Flash Metal Suicide: Blackboard Jungle

Blackboard Jungle 
I Like It Alot
1992, self-released
By Stu Gibson

LA's Blackboard Jungle are contenders for the ultimate FMS, especially among the US contingent.
Having being unsigned puts them up there with the UK's Soho Roses. Before it all gets Euro (or Pan-world) vision, I'm not saying that the unsigned status qualifies them for retrospective glory above and beyond anyone else, but that both the Roses and the Jungle put out excellent, dribblesomely great sleazepopglampunk type records on their own with no help from any fucker but themselves. Their fairly brief website offers few tales in terms of biogs and events and things, and at time of writing I've not heard back from the guys to see about filling in the gaps, so shall we plunge headlong into the heady heartland of downtown LA and sift thru the smog and wheezing winos to the time a wee CD was pressed up after some demos were produced by one Mr Brett Muscat of Faster Pussycat fame, sometime in the early 1990's?

H-o-okaaay then.

Fast forward a few years to the not quite as smoggy streets of Manchester, England, circa 1995 and a young would-be wino (tho he didn't know it then) had, unfortunately as it turned out - tho the small factor of this record was the only good thing - met another young chap called Nick (sort of, as we shall soon see) through the eternal swell of adverts for aspiring musicians that plague every town. We had a chat and a 'jam' or two with a guitar player by the name of Roger before hooking up with a drummer called Simon. The long and the short of it is I ended up trying to sort out a band with Simon for longer than was necessary in the stubbornness of youth, or idiocy, or the stubbornness borne of general stupidity, who knows at this fair and far remove. Bloody good drummer tho. The other two fell by the wayside but it was this character called Nick that was the catalyst for this piece and who we should be centering on for the time being for 'twas he, dear sleazoids, that had a taped copy of the Blackboard Jungle record. Now I was intrigued by the name (he, naturally, as you may soon be able to discern, had never heard of the insanely famous and pivotal film from whence their name derived) so didst copy said tape, which I still have, and then over the years enquired of folk who passed me by (by that I mean people I knew legitimately. I didn't take to wandering about Manchester with a sandwich board on asking if anyone had heard of Blackboard Jungle. They'd have thought it was advertising some new doomsday cult.), none of which could help me discover who this intriguing, and bloody damn good I tell you, band were.

'You Talk Shit About Me. I Talk Shit About You...'
This Nick guy wasn't too keen. He was far too gone down the road of stupid glam. He had a tattoo of 'Nax' on his shoulder, top of his arm, and when asked why, he would come out, as you do, with some deluded dreamtime garbage about how he was called Nick Andrew Smith but thinking that Smith was too common changed the 'S' for an 'X', giving himself the all too rock'n'roll cool moniker of 'Nax'. Way to go, man. The drummer bloke, Simon, used to love it, and laugh and shake his head in wonder why he wanted to name himself after a make of crisps AND THEN TATTOO IT on his person!!! (I enquired after Sleaze as to whether you Statesiders have these - Nik Nacks - and apparently not. Not in New England, any road. They famously, and rather fabulously, come in really stinky flavours like Scampi and Lemon; Nice 'n' Spicy (the best); Spare Rib and putrid cheese feet (made that up, but ya get the picture?)). We went to Manchester's 'premier' Rock club Jilly's Rockworldone summers night and, hell, I thought I wore daft clothes - creepers, drape coats, winkle pickers, vomit paisley patterned shirts, and at that time, disastrously long hair - but never ever did I think that anyone actually wore zebra skin lycra pants. Pleeeeease. Shiny PVC, ohhhh yes, super slinky, slippery and fine. C'mon, look in the mirror, son.

Zebra print! It was the end of a strange, mad day, maybe I was stoned, or too young and stupid to shout out how bad it was, but I'd had an afternoon of him playing me 'songs' so maybe I was simply speechless. Without any hint of embarrassment, or self-effacement, or anything approaching a sense of realization that you sucked, I had this barrage of songs that could, really, looking back, have slightly altered the course of history as they might have made Davy Vain blush and become an alt. country crooner. Perhaps I'm too English or something, but there's, I dunno, there's Paul Stanley, and then there's Nick Nax from Bath, y'know. 'Nuff said. I wanted to be in a band like The Dogs D'Amour, who were unique, have a bit of spin 'n' style of your own, not bullshit sub Motley Crue Sunset Strip shit about, 'Ooooo She said I wore her out / I banged her on the bus and I made her shout' without any sense of humour, tongue in cheek silliness at all. Oh well, it was fun looking back for a moment. He didn't actually write that line, but pretty close, ad infinitum, for a whole double album or so's worth. Man, how dumb am I? We coulda done a Manics! At least an '...Illusion'!

'I Was Just A Fresh Young Thing...'
Maybe that was the problem, and I'm been too harsh. I wrote shit songs in my younger days (hem hem, yuss opinions still vary!) and still can't anywhere near sing so who am I to say? Well, so what, it makes me laugh looking back. And anyway, plenty of bands wrote, and write, horn-rimmed Rocka's but they had, or have, the ability do it well, whether it'sSoho Roses or Danko Jones. The Blackboard Jungle guys weren't quite so fresh but hell, the played like it. I couldn't believe it when I read that this album is a self-release during my googling around after these guys recently. This is quite simply a very, very good record. Deceptively clever, very well written and put together songs (were they session guys? Hmmmm, I wonder). What staggers me, and has done for the last 10 years, is that they sound so of their time and place but in the songs and the lyrics have a sensibility, or -ilities, at least a few steps removed from the general wanna-be scumbucket guff of 'The Strip'.

The album opens and closes with place-name songs, opening with 'Chicago', which underneath it's bruised black belly of lost boy dirty psychedelia lies a lovely, gently rollin' country stroller that wouldn't be looked at sideways by Steve Earle. Fact is, he'd probably marry the fucker. It's a cold-kissed hungover dawn, deliciously melancholic causing you to kiss the can and toast another wasted day, as the skin tightens round the bones on your face.

This glam darkside is one of their great strengths. The whole record is kinda sombre, yet stirring, a coastal Harley ride in Big Sur, wind and seabreeze flowing through your hair...or have I been sucked into an advert for 'The 25 Greatest Biker Tunes for Stockbroking Cowboys'?...Almost at times not a drag strip away from where Faster Pussycat were thrown off the train as they twisted from 'Wake Me When It's Over' into the 'Whipped!' record with songs like 'Jack The Bastard' yet then doing 'Friends' and the AOR 'Non-Stop To Nowhere'. Similarly our boys from the Jungle piledrive their way through the burning bins, murdered devils and dolls, knife sharp nightmares and smokin' sleaze of downtown Chicago and take a drive out to the country blastin' Skynyrd and sippin' spirits on 'Forever You And I' and 'My Old Friend'. Just on the right side of mawkish - 'An old friend on the telephone calling up to say 'Hi / Man I miss you hope you're doing fine'. Anyone who's ever been there screwed up and over for whatever sin or reason and has a call outta the blue will know right off that it ain't sickly sweet pseudo sad eyed heartstring tugging country sap. And you. Yes you, Mister Bassist Britt, I can hear you rehearsing 'Ziggy Stardust' riffs on the fadeout. Tsk! 'This Time Last Year', a mournful tale slumped on the throne of remembrance - 'Oh this time last year a friend of mine was still alive' - too rattles along on a moonlit cruise through desolate small towns of wee small hours sadness and again I hear a hearkening keen like Mr Earle yet also here the melancholic minor chord musings of Tyla's best solo work (like 'Nocturnal Nomad') flowing silently through the sun-tinged long-grasses with witchdoctor whisperings like 'Oh this time last year so many memories were born / But today my blood drips from their thorns...' They wend in and out of these on some slick somersault-inducing rockers like a big-budget matrix-type car chase sequence.

'Generations', a Rose Tattoo chantalong and tailor made for the drummer to do some arm in the air stick-twizzling that introduces itself like a SWAT team coming round for a chat and 'I Like It A Lot' are purpose built for the Rockclub and as such are sturdy little blighters that have lasted the test. The title track been a turn of the 90's Chilli Peppers funkmetalglam work-out that is, unfortunately, one of the few, and minor, disappointing moments on the record (along with 'River Of Love' which is just too hackneyed LA barrel-scraping shit fron the shoe for me), despite it's almost slipping into Love/Hate's 'Slave Girl', as it were. (Strangely 'River Of Love' almost enters GN'R's 'Rocket Queen' for a slight slip of a whip at the beginning. What is it with them and other bands song girls? What is it with my head?!).

Only a slight setback, purely cos it's not up there with the likes of 'Chicago' and 'Paint A Picture'. Oh yeah, did I not mention that yet? 'Paint A Picture', which is downloadable from their wee website, is verily 'n' forsooth a roadmasterasphaltblaster, to nick a few words from Steve Earle. A scorched black tale of bad love for a 'psychotic little thing' - 'Paint you a picture of myself / Paint it from the inside out / I ain't no Picasso / This'll have to do / Psychotic little thing / I still want you' - it further shows off their winning way with a pop melody and hook, nevermind their mantra-chanting choruses, Andy McCoy woulda given up smack for it. Almost. Weirdly, disturbingly so, makes me think of Mike Patton dancing like a chicken on fire in the 'From Out Of Nowhere' video. 'Prettiest Ones', as in 'The prettiest ones always hurt so bad...' is a similar case in point too. The 'Under The Bridge' style guitar work here either shows the RHCP influence mentioned above or shows the prevalence of Kiedis and co's intrusion without invitation into the lives and ears of us mortal millions. For the record, tho, and actually on the record itsgoodgodself, Mr The Guitar Player Dave Zink is pretty damn impressive.  Nothing too ridiculous and so bad it's not even comical a la CC Deville wannabe flash, but some well-placed flash noisescapes and carcrash chunksolos and harmonic helicopter rotor blade riddles of economic splendour and deft touches (there's one, just one, little bent/slide note on the breakdown of 'Forever You And I' that is springy light Thai beef salad exquisite). Similar to the prevalence of the Chilli-bloody-Peppers is the extent of Waxl's all-encompassing effect on people up and down lands of all shapes and sizes. Singerman Kerry Price has a touch of Axl's singing form the back of somewhere round his top jaw and nose style, which Kiedis has a bit too. There's even the odd drop of Mike Patton about it too, and I remember a whileback thinking the vocals were at times hinting at Dan Reed. But thankfully it's been so long since I heard the little I've ever heard of Dan Reed and his fucking Network that I'm not sure if that's the case anymore. See? sometimes being a Flash Metal case helps, as time goes past and you get looked on even more favourably.*

As it started the record closes with a placename song. This time 'California', about, as untold millions of people have done before and since, heading way out west to 'lose myself in California'. This is a really nice atmospheric tune, shuffled along on tickertape train drums and like the Harley ride before is something akin to some vampires flying about the moon-soaked coast looking for those fresh stockbroking biker boys to feed on, as waves break and roil hundreds of feet below. Creates some mythic twilit half-world that would have worked well soundtracking the vampire film 'Near Dark'. And how many LA hairmetal strip assholes (or strip-searching assholes for songs) woulda written something so Johnny Cash/ Earle of Steve country as 'Caught a tear in my Dad's eye as I left home'? I'm not sure if it had a particular effect on the younger me as I'd only just vacated the premises a year or so before that, and I didn't 'lose my faith' to a girl in a topless bar, as this chap did. (was he ripped off? A weird euphemism for virginity? Or was she so dumb it made him lose his faith in the human race?). My run ins with strippers have always been insanely irritating, mainly because the one that used to, and maybe still does, frequent The Salisbury that I used to venture in for an afternoon tipple and sweaty sandwich, was always on the verge of some breakdown or other.

'Sometimes I Think This Town Talks Too Much...'
So the Blackboard Jungle tale closes after a short and sweet sojourn to the last days of sleazepopmetallin' - Hollywood style. A shame but an apt demonstration of the old adage of luck 'n' pluck, and the fact that there's always some tosser that'll get there instead. Such as Roxx Gang, who, if memory serves, were still able to put out a record in 1991, and these guys couldn't get a deal. Tragic. At once one of the best LA streetjunk bands (indeed, they apparently won best unsigned band awards a few times) whilst been pretty unique in that slender stabling, they were perhaps a year or so, or maybe even a few months too late off the block as the grunge Godzilla was stomping down on LA from Seattle and wildhaired AandR arseholes were, well, inverting themselves to move their asses and turn into some sanshoed, slacker cipher. And it was a time BC too,** , where anything remotely Rockin' and glam tinged was just excised from media attention. A whole wad of demos and records, live and studio, and vids are available, which makes me think I should update my old muffly tape, nicely priced from their website and the guys all play still in various Cali bands***, reuniting for a show once a year to commemorate these rather great tunes. Bless 'em. 'The biggest littlest band to ever come out of Los Angeles'.


-Stu Gibson
*To be perfectly honest, and probably quite boring, I actually saw some Dan Reed Network on a vid someone had of old VH1 metal shows and Power Hours and so on. Horrific.
**BC =Before Crue. Before they were literally rehabilitated in the general publics mind and are now feted and worshipped for being shit, talentless muppets, kinda like a sleaze Spice Girls, or Big Brother contestants. Cos it's funny and oh so post-Crue now, ha ha.
***Including the awesome Substitutes, who are probably the most criminally unsigned band in California 10 years later. These fuckers have no luck.

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