If You Don’t Already Have A Look
In The Red
f one could take the beginnings of rock 'n' roll—Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis—and mix it with Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins (include sound quality for this portion), and early Who, the essence from that mixture could be said to be the sound of the Dirtbombs. The Dirtbombs are like a drunken Fourth of July party. Everything is great and fun at first, but the combination of the alcohol and the sun means things get a little weird, a little messy. First you're playing volleyball, then you're making out with someone you've claimed to have hated since grade school.
Garage rock is the first place to put the Dirtbombs, and the label fits. But unlike other fuzzed-out rock bands, the Dirtbombs have a bit of subtlety. The lyrics are more clever, for starters. Check out "Little Miss Chocolate Syrup" and "Never Licking You Again" or the feline pairing of "The Sharpest Claws" and "(I'm Not Your) Scratching Post." The music is bottom-heavy (two bass, two drums) without sounding like it was recorded underwater. But the biggest difference between the Dirtbombs and other garage rock luminaries is that there is a greater sense of change between songs. By song nineteen (out of twenty-nine, and this is only disc one of a two-CD collection), the listener isn’t numbed by the umpteenth song boasting a tired blues-rock riff. The songs are still vibrant and while not moving too far outside of a basic formula, there are enough seeds of experimentation thrown about to keep listeners interested.
The first CD consists of collected singles. The Dirtbombs blast their way through the cool concrete that is your heart to prove you’re nothing but a bloody mess compared to them. You will never be as hip. Sorry. Then they give you back your humanity by pointing out that we're all the same anyway. You're dumped, you're broke, you're hated. But then it turns out your car rocks the block and the hottest person you know just declared their love for you. And just as it looks like things can't get better, the prize from If You Don't Already Have a Look is the second CD. A twenty-three song collection of covers, the Dirtbombs bring grace and majesty back to what is mostly a bad habit for other bands. Paying tribute to everyone from the Gun Club to Stevie Wonder, Yoko Ono to the Bee Gees, they capture the spirit of the songs they choose without going overboard and making something that is merely redundant. Going beyond that, they also manage to alter their own dynamic so as not to make every song sound like a Dirtbombs song with very familiar lyrics. This is a skill that cannot be over congratulated. (This as I listen to Iron & Wine covering Stereolab, and wonder why Sam Beam bothered.)
The Dirtbombs do nothing new. But they do it well. Due to the genre and the original format (7"; an assumption of time restraints and few dollars), the sound quality on some tracks warrants the skip button on your player. So what? You've got fifty-two chances here. They’ll hit enough to make it well worth it.
Reviewed by: Jill LaBrack
Reviewed on: 2005-06-23