Rhythm and Views
FEBRUARY 8, 1999:
THE SUN KINGS
IT'S GREAT WHEN a record can reach out and grab your pleasure-lobe from the get-go. In the case of El Paso's Sun Kings, "Hey Hey" is as pure and immediate a powerpop rocker as a Big Star or a Plimsouls classic, infused with a meaty, recurring riff and the insanely infectious "hey, hey" chorus chant. If that were the only decent tune on the Kings' debut it would still be guaranteed inclusion on some future compilation of lost gems from the late '90s powerpop revival. Lucky them (and us): the Kings frontload their record with electricity ("Believe," with its stomping, war-dance feel and minor chord changes, suggests a more rousing variation on the Smithereens' "Behind The Wall Of Sleep"); serve up a moody Tom Pettyesque jangler mid-disc ("Fallen Woman"); then go out on a heady wave of tremolo/twangy guitars and pulse-quickening thumpage (the neopsychedelic "Never Sent"). As produced by Luminarios/Sand Rubies impresario Rich Hopkins, this young band, pardon the obvious cliché, really does beam down bright rays of light--all the more refreshing in this era of dark angst and musical desperation.
THIS BOISTEROUS street punk debut, subtitled "Alleyway Anthems and Songs To Drink By" by a trio of barely-legal punk crusties, rekindles fond memories of early '80's UK Oi bands like Sham 69, the Business and Cockney Rejects. Luckily these rowdy South Jersey hardcore hellions steer clear of spouting the racist political propaganda that infected some of their UK skinhead brethren. They shout catchy, sing-a-long punk anthems primarily about drinking ("Getting Smashed" and "Bottoms Up"), bare-knuckle fisticuffs ("John L. Sullivan") and rich poseurs acting as squatters ("Punks Not Dread"). The more-than-competent Cuffs, who proudly display their Exploited and Condemned T- shirts on the back cover, add nothing new or exciting to the simple, straight-ahead Oi/street punk formula--a recently revived movement that's received national exposure in trendy rags like Spin and Alternative Press by the U.S. presence of bands like the Dropkick Murphys, Ducky Boys and the Templars. But the rip-snortin' Cuffs are cocky, flippant and overly-aggressive in their saucy albeit adolescent lyrical convictions. With more life experience, instrumental maturity and songs of biting social commentary, these 19-year-olds should rival the popularity and gain the respect of their UK hardcore heroes.
THE PASSING OF the Willie/Waylon era has unfortunately relegated the once prominent songwriter Billy Joe Shaver to the shadows. Victory, though, dismisses era associations with its raw, gospel-heavy songs appreciative of having transcended those hard-living '70s. As in rougher days, Billy Joe Shaver sings his Texas-dry country/blues tunes with a slippery yodel. This, as with the last two Shaver albums, is a father-and-son affair, with guitarist Eddy sitting across from his old man in the studio, collaborating on tunes too intimate and spiritual to be of interest to larger labels. Basically, this is a country gospel album void of the piety-wearing-a-tie bullshit that keeps you from getting up early Sunday morning. While Garth Brooks vampirically expands his bank account/audience, Billy Joe honorably sticks to his no longer popular roots, further honing a personal conviction first evident several decades back on "Jesus Christ, What A Man." May he record a hundred more albums as solid as this.
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