When Guns n’ Roses surprised everyone by breaking big it really seemed to throw the record companies at the time, there they all were with their teased-and-preened glam acts and/or their polished AOR poodles cowering in a radically changed landscape as a bunch of genuinely dangerous, unruly dudes surveyed the wastes. Record companies being record companies wasted very little time regrouping and did what they always did when the public force their taste on them, rather than vice versa, they leapt into their A&R-mobiles and started to sign any grubby looking ‘street’ rock bands they could find and launch them at us as quickly as they could.
First up (that I remember anyway) was Bang Tango. I remember popping into the wonderful Backstreet Records in Carmarthen* and the owner pointing me in the direction of Live Injection, telling me they were going to be the next Guns n’ Roses. So enamoured were the band/record label of Guns n’ Roses career arc that they decided to replicate it entirely, borderline note for note. Live Injection, as the title suggests was a live EP^ released on an independent label**, before the major label debut hit. It was an import copy from the US and so desperately not wanting to miss out on a chance to get in at the ground floor on the next big thing, I handed over a chunk of my hard-earned and stared at the picture of the cool painted leather jacket logo all the way home on the bus, although the band did look alarmingly fluffy on the back cover photo.
I took it home, whacked it on and tried to like it. I tried very hard to like it. Hell, I pretended to like it to my friends in the hope that might make me like it some more. Truth is, I didn’t much and I was never very keen on admitting I was wrong. It was all just a bit lifeless to me, the best track by far was ‘Futurama’ (a Hanoi Rocks cover of course, although I didn’t know that then) which they really went for, but the rest … bland and samey. Playing it again now i think what I didn’t like then, or now, is the slight funk bass (played by Kyle Kyle – so good they named him twice!). This was a little bit before a million funk-metal bands were launched over the parapet at us scared/scarred listeners and it sounded a bit wrong to me, I just wanted heavy heavy not plinky-plonky-wibbly-bibbly.
Live Injection just got played less and less and then I forgot about it and didn’t buy Bang Tango’s proper debut Psycho Cafe, I did buy their second LP Dancin’ on Coals years later on tape when the band had mystifyingly gone for the under-used glam rock vampire image, I remember it being quite good in places too. But i digress.
My second go at finding the new Guns n’ Roses was infinitely better. I read a good review of a San Francisco-based band called The Sea Hags, I was skint but my girlfriend bought their debut Sea Hags and it was just brilliant; I stumbled across and bagged a copy in 1996^^. These were no copyists, this was dark, opiate-soaked rock from somewhere ever-so slightly north of the gutter. I loved their slightly off-kilter melodies and the fact that tracks like ‘Someday’ don’t quite do what you expect them to.
The opener and probably the least representative track here is ‘Half The Way Valley’, a churning fizzing rocker on a similar goddamn-tease tip as ‘Day Tripper’. It’s the track I liked most when I first heard it, but it’s the one I like least now, it’s just a bit insubstantial. Never fear though, Sea Hags hangs a hard left turn with the next track ‘Doghouse’,
With a hammer in the back and a foot on the ground
He was standing there when the heat came down
And there was a scuffle and there was a fight
When death paid a visit to the thief that night
A slightly minor key triumph, it sounds genuinely sleazy and not in a lingerie-model-with-bouffed-up-hair way that most bands of the time thought was sleazy. If I had a bone of musical talent in me I’d cover this song, hell I’d form a band just so I could cover this song. This was music made by men who you’d cross the street to avoid and who probably bought their downtime from scary guys in Mercedes; I mean Christ, just look at them on the back cover. There are even subtle shades of The Stooges here too, filtered through some cracked and warped Aerosmith live bootleg from back when they were remotely interesting and severely drugged.
You know what? it’s all good and I still listen to this LP quite a bit today, which isn’t the case with most of what I was listening to back in ’89. As I said before, I love the melody of ‘Someday’ which on a lesser LP would be a ballad, quite frankly it’s a menacing ride, ‘When we talk you get that nervous look in your eye / Looks like any moment you’re about to cry’. Even the unpromisingly titled ‘Back To The Grind’ which follows, is a belter about being in a band and not a sex-thang at all.
Side two kicks off with the brilliant instrumental ‘Bunkbed Creek’, setting a mean and moody, almost Jane’s Addiction-esque tone, before hitting the tracks running with ‘In The Mood For Love’, again not the cock rock the title suggests – this is a trippy tale of midnight jamming and cold-blooded decadence (‘It was a gathering of sorts / of old cohorts’). Then it hits real pay dirt with my fave track on the whole LP, ‘Miss Fortune’, again it’s lean and menacing, another chance to lie in the gutter with a woman who doesn’t really care if you live or die and who you love and worship all the more for it. Nobody is having much fun here.
Add in the unsettling riff on ‘Three’s a Charm’, again a swirl of bad drugs and soon-to-be regrets.
I had a dream last night
About the devil and my little girl
He tried to drive us home last night
But the throttle jammed in reverse
make no bones about it this was a really good band, I’m very pleased I saw them live in Bristol in 1990 (I think) because they weren’t with us long. Wikipedia tells me that Chris Schlosshardt died quite early on but I had it in my head that three of the band had passed away – I’ll check it out. Still, this is a really well-written and brilliantly played LP throughout, Mike Clink’s production is absolutely spot-on too, their sound has a real heft to it in places and a real fragility in others.
Sea Hags never really did much in terms of sales, Chrysalis never seemed to do well with rock LPs and this wasn’t the bright wasted sound that people wanted to buy and the company wanted to sell, it was far more complex and fraught than that and infinitely better as a result. So no, Sea Hags weren’t the next Guns n’ Roses, but in retrospect with their down-tuned, slightly melancholy take on rock you could hear some echoes of what was to follow in a year or two from the North. Someday.
*my little sticker tells me that was on 17 April 1989 – Christ I’m old.
**World of Hurt records, who released some of the Kill For Thrills stuff later on I think.
^suspiciously no date or venue is listed. Hmmmm.
^^all I need now is a copy of The Throbs The Language of Thieves and Vagabonds and I’ll have replaced all my important tapes, I think.