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Monday, November 12, 2007

SOUND & FURY: WALK AMONG US (1982) by the Misfits

Back in the days before he fell totally in love with his own perceived awesomeness and launched his turgid solo act, Glenn Danzig fronted one of the finest and most unique of the American punk bands, namely the Misfits (1977-1983), proof that not everything about New Jersey has to suck. When it comes to what would later ludicrously be dubbed “horrorcore,” there existed no better exponent of a genre that drew inspiration from horror movie culture, cheesy sci-fi flicks and serial murder, and considering how far-reaching the Misfits’ baleful influence proved to be over the three decades since their first recordings, their DIY legacy is even more impressive in retrospect. Possessed (pun intended) of the simplest of drum techniques — basically a “whomp-whack” that would have been at home on many early rockabilly tunes, unless sped up for the moshier numbers — a three chord buzzsaw sound on guitar and Danzig’s unmistakable vocals (simultaneously melodic as hell and rather intentionally goofy/silly, depending on the song), the Misfits defined the genre they helped create and their output sounds as fresh today as it did when first experienced.

Which poses the question, “what is the Misfits’ finest album?” Ask any Misfits fan and they’ll most likely point you toward WALK AMONG US, the group’s first full-length LP release, following assorted singles and EP's.

The thirteen tracks included on the LP comprise the most cohesive Misfits offering, sticking as it does to pretty much one musical style with not one dud track in the lot ("Night of the Living Dead" gets my vote for weakest track, but even that one isn't bad). From the opening percussion rumble and anguished musings of “20 Eyes” through the Muppet Show-esque “Braineaters,” it’s a tour de force of creepy fun that brings to mind what would have happened if Pugsley Addams had formed a garage band and sang about the questionable and arcane things of which he knew. Subjects covered include two very different takes on alien invasion (“I Turned Into A Martian” and “Astro Zombies”), the undead, cannibalism, a serial killer’s yen for wall-mounted trophies like the heads of little girls, a disgruntled teen’s planned retribution against his tormenting schoolmates (“Mommy Can I Go Out & Kill Tonight?”), and a love song to 1950’s horror host icon Vampira, much of which is delivered with a subtle and infectious sense of humor. True story: when I first got into this album during the 1980’s, I used to play it at the movie theater where I worked, and the C&W-loving manager of the place got into as well, particularly enjoying “Skulls” — the one about the headhunting child murderer — which he declared was one of the sickest and funniest things he’d ever heard.

Another thing that the uninitiated listener will notice is Danzig’s singing voice. Unusually accomplished for an act that sings about the joys of all manner of truly twisted stuff, Glenn’s signature tones owe a lot to Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, and the Damned’s Dave Vanian — arguably the punk genre’s smoothest vocalist — and the Misfits just wouldn’t be right without him (witness the current lineup’s output and tell me I’m not absolutely correct in my assessment).

Glenn Danzig before he turned into a douchebag.

Veering anywhere between an evocative tenor to a smarmy Elvis/Morrison delivery, to say nothing of his famous “Whoooooah” moan, his sound is wholly appropriate for whatever he tackles here and it’s a welcome change from most other punk singers’ less-than-dulcet tones. Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer were by no means great harmonizers and even the beloved Joey Ramone could be held accountable for his occasionally nasal/whiny outpourings, so when you get a punk band that can not only rock ass like nobody’s business, but also has a front man with an awesome voice, you had damned well better treasure them, bunky!

Each of the original Misfits studio albums are worth checking out — avoid the live stuff like the plague since it sounds like it was recorded from deep inside someone’s colon — but if you only add one of their albums to your music collection, WALK AMONG US is the clear choice of highest merit, with the posthumously released STATIC AGE (1997) coming in a close second. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

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