Monday, November 21, 2005

CD Review: Toxic Shock - Die Next!

Die Next! by Toxic Shock sounds like what would have happened if The Dickies had been from Texas and been fronted by Michael Quercio of the Three O'Clock. Reputed band members: Johnny Now was the guitarist, Sue Side played bass and contributed vocals, drums were handled by Chris Dubbins, and the band was led by guitarist/vocalist Lance Savage. Real names might not be proof and there's some debate about whether these four separate people ever actually existed providing an Archies type mystery to the band almost as captivating as fellow Texan Jandek, but the music is sonic proof enough that if Toxic Shock is just the case of a musical Svengali having some fun we should feel lucky for it. Cavedweller Records roducer Randy Elliott could be the one pulling the strings, but he's not saying anything other than the band can be reached through his website San Jose Vision.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Toxic Shock is that their music is the result of a misguided intital comprehension of what punk rock was supposed to be. They though it was supposed to be raw, fast, loud, and about death. So you get 4 songs with death or dead in the title and several more where the reaper puts in an appearance. What's intriguing is that this fixation is not crass, macabre, or disgusting. There is a Shaggs like innocence behind the tales of terror within. There are some serious parts, but most of the tunes come off with a spirit of fun and naivete only the true beginner would have. It's fresh and disarming especially with several attempts at R.E.M. jangle pop included.

The album begins with the ominous spoken word into to "Black Death" before launching into some two chord thrash rock. Songs about the plague just never go out of style do they? "Voodoo Village" recalls Idiot era Iggy. Disappointment and heartbreak are almost as bad as death so there are two versions of "She Was The Girl" included; the second is an unlisted bonus track recorded live in Europe on the Wicked Witch Tour that may or may not have ever happened. The "live" version is the better one with all of the pop pretension drained out it. "No Quarter" is what you get on a song that showcases Toxic Shock's surf and destroy type thrash.

"Tombs Of The Blind Dead" is based on the Italian horror film of the same name. It gets a little grisly since Betty gets eaten alive by some hungry zombies. The aggro "Death Merchants" is based on a soldier's t-shirt who had just returned from war. The song "Bone Circus" resembles nothing less than second album Meat Puppets. The original version of "Black Death" is also included along with the bonus, bouncy, jangle pop cut of "Don't Wanna Be Here". The best song on the album has to be "Dead Til Proven Alive" which features the lament of a high school age hermit whose parents are concerned because he doesn't want to go out on dates or do the standard high school age things. Some people are just late bloomers and "Dead Til Proven Alive" takes this to heart in much the same way as the lyrics to Bowie's "Changes" do. Toxic Shock are quite aware of what you're going through.

It really doesn't matter whether Toxic Shock exists as a real band or is just the fantasy of somebody down in Texas. Rock and roll in general is a fantasy world filled with dream peddlers with most of us looking to escape anywhere from 3 minutes at a time to longer if we're in the mood to listen to an entire album. Die Next! provides just such an escape.

No comments: