Why don’t you call your wife,
Call your boss man,
‘Cuz we ain’t never going home.
Call the po-lice! Call the po-lice!
‘Cuz we g’on get our drinks on
Always judge a record by the cover. Oblivians Desperation features a sturdy old jukebox in a corner of a rundown bar, the juke is an early ’60s model called a ‘Seeburg Discotheque’ and features a front panel painting of some picturesque American high street at night. The cover tells us the bar we’re looking at is not on that high street. Close up on the walls you can see the pitting and scars and table marks of a thousand lonely nights of bitter drinking in this place. Oh and there’s a chick in a slinky pink velour number leaning on the thing too, she’s wearing shades indoors, I think that’s a glass at her lips and I’m willing to bet close-up you couldn’t tell if those eyes were puffy from crying, or partying. My guess is this scene took place at 11.30 on a Monday night.
Always judge a record by the inner sleeve. Oblivians Desperation features a multi-exposure black and white photograph of a motorbike accident, reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s darker period. Flip it and you have a beautifully composed shot of an unmade bed, lamp and telephone – the damped in wrinkles on the floral pillowcase suggest a night of little comfort. Over all else though is the shadow lurking above and below the bed, held at bay only by the lamp, the impression is that it will engulf the sufferer here with all its amorphous doubts, regrets, infidelities and uncertainties as soon as the light is off. My guess is this scene took place early hours Tuesday morning.
Not that this is in any way a depressing LP, Desperation is the sound of the high before the inevitable fall, you ride the roller coaster up knowing exactly what is about to happen when you get to the top of the track, but you ride it anyway. Hell, the knowledge is what gives the flavour, well that and the gin.
The Oblivians, who I’d never heard of prior to this 2013 LP, have tendrils lining back to garage punk dudes like The Compulsive Gamblers and forward to 1537 faves Reigning Sound, this was a comeback LP. The sound is garage rock, punk and bluesy in places – a fine mix of ingredients, in fact if you were trying to bait a 1537-trap all you’d need to add to guarantee success would be sleevenotes. True story. There’s a healthy dose of the band’s Memphis roots in here too, a real Southern sensibility and a liking for a good tune, no matter how rough-assed some of the music can be.
The Oblivians get 1,000,021 bonus points immediately by dint of the fact they use the whole Band-name-as-Surname trick that I am particularly susceptible to, just ask The Donnas. This is a band so cool that they follow this up with an unprecedented doubling of their 1537 bonus points by all playing guitar, drums and vocals interchangeably throughout the album – they often swapped between songs live apparently. Readers, do not ask whether The Oblivians are cool enough for you, ask whether you are cool enough for the Oblivians.
Desperation starts out with ‘I’ll Be Gone’, which has the air and cretin beat of a downbeat early Ramones number – you know one of their tracks about being sad, rather than sniffing cleaning products for kicks circa Road To Ruin. ‘Loving Cup’ is no Stones cover, but a zippy little number played with a squeaky trebley guitar and a great beat and then we get hit with ‘Em’, which is the sound of a man desperately seeking solace despite his experiences (‘The day is dark but the sun is going to shine again’), rarely do you get such garage rock existentialism.
All okay so far, but none of it quite puts its hand up my skirt though, well not until the Oblivians take aim and let us have it straight between the eyes with the brilliant four song salvo that closes the first side of the LP. ‘Woke Up In A Police Car’ is the drunken conclusion to the best Sunday night’s drinking you never quite had, because you pulled back from the brink of total insanity, whereas the Oblivians sailed their Raft of Irresponsibility* right over the waterfall, but hey, I guess that’s the whole point of being a professional garage punk rocker bluesman boozeanaut – you never have to do early mornings.
‘Pinball King’ is 60’s garage pop recorded with all the meters in the red, as simple and as great as that ‘Ding Ding, the pinball king’, a bit like Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons might have sounded if they’d formed in a Memphis head injury ward, hey – their loss! ‘Run For Cover’ is a 2:10 slice of getaway music, this is a spasming wind-tunnel blues punk number, done and gone before you can quite grasp how good it is. Trust me.
I won’t hang around and bore you any longer, Desperation has got me plenty thirsty. I didn’t rate the album much when I first got it, in fact it was a real disappointment for me. What a fool, how could I not hear the brilliance in the likes of ‘Little war Child’, I like Gaslight Anthem but this is like Gaslight Anthem to the power of 9, possibly 10. Cue up ‘Back Street Hangout’ and this is The Black Keys to the power of 9, possibly 10.
Sorry, there I go again, but Desperation is such a great, totally American sounding album. It would sound even better on a Seeburg Discotheque late on a Monday night.
We g’on get our drinks on
And we ain’t going going home
*deserving of capital letters I reckon.
**not actually true, but its the sort of thing I like to say.