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The Boston Phoenix New Punk Values

Hellacopters, Turbonegro, and Gluecifer

By Carly Carioli

JANUARY 25, 1999: 

I wish my life could be
Just like Swedish magazines.

-- Iggy Pop, "Five Foot One"


In 1998, the vast majority of what passed in America for rock and roll was completely out of touch with the scandalous, free-for-all, boot-knockin' house party that has become our national public life. The biggest names in modern rock (the Beasties' Tibetan Horde) attempted to dictate foreign policy while a beltway groupie licked the Head of State backstage at the Oval Office. Finally, the old Situationist/punk adage had come home to roost: nothing is true (it all depends on what "is" is), and everything is permitted. But if Thatcher's England spawned the Sex Pistols and Reaganomics begat hardcore, what did we get for our billion-dollar Hummergate? Pundits could argue in the New Yorker about whether or not the Starr Report worked as a novel, but surely this was the stuff of somebody's rock and roll. In this country, the only thing that came close was Monster Magnet's Powertrip, where Dave Weindorf came onto everything in sight, bragged he needed a drug just to keep his Monster in his pants, and then declared "You're looking for the one who fucked your mom/It's not me."

As it turned out, the only rock and roll that kept up with the American presidency was an album that began with a song about pizza and ended with a song about a girl who wants to screw and a guy who just wants a blow job. It was Apocalypse Dudes, an astounding album by the Norwegian band Turbonegro that hung the flamboyant outrageousness of late-'70s/early-'80s cock rock on the hanger of Ramones-style pun. It kept perfect time with the throbbing pulse of a year defined by raw-naked voyeurism and indecent proposals. Under the circumstances, it's not so far-fetched that the most fully realized rock-and-roll album of the year could be made by a bunch of manly Norwegian men dressed like the Village People trapped in a denim factory, a band who versified about fast food, limitless sexual conquest, and the pleasures of man-boy love in "Get It On," "Rock Against Ass," which despite its title is actually in favor of ass, and "Rendezvous with Anus." What's more, Apocalypse Dudes spearheaded a wave of Scandinavian punk-infused hard rock that also included excellent offerings by the Hellacopters and Gluecifer. Here's an introduction:


The Hellacopters

Sweden's a screwy country to begin with -- it's the kind of place where it's possible for a death-metal band like Entombed to win the country's version of a Grammy. And it is a not insignificant portent that the drummer for Entombed quit to join the Hellacopters, who bear no resemblance to death metal whatsoever but who promptly won a Swedish Grammy of their own for their 1996 debut album, Supershitty to the Max (White Jazz), which wasn't officially released in the US until this past November by Man's Ruin.

The disc was recorded in two days, and the production values live up to the title -- no album since Teengenerate's 1995 Get Action! (Crypt) has turned the sonic liability of needle-in-the-red oversaturation into such a convincing aesthetic trademark. The opening track, "Gotta Get Some Action (Now!)", and "Random Riot" foreshadowed the kind of souped-up white-trash Motör-punk that would eventually earn Nashville Pussy a Grammy nomination in this country. Except that even on "Random Riot" you can detect a broader proficiency in the idiosyncratic language of down-and-dirty rock and roll: a bit of MC5 maximum rhythm and psychedelic soul raising the beat above mere headbanging fare; a wailing harmonica solo and crusty dobro slide, neither of which is played for kitsch or authenticity or any of that crap, just for full-on kicks.

"Born Broke" might be the ultimate Hellacopters statement: a template for the ultimate meta-rock song, a shorthand version of everything from Hendrix and Motörhead to Mötley Crüe and the New Bomb Turks. And "Fake Baby" had something that no one in this country had even bothered with in a decade or so -- hooks, as in big nuclear-powered hard-fucking-rock licks, like a late-model Iggy Pop giving Kiss the business. It also set one of the Hellacopters' guiding ground rules: throw in lots of Stooges quotations and interpolations, and use the mighty "I Wanna Be Your Dog" triumvirate of sleigh bells/handclaps/one-note piano the way Texans use Tabasco -- put it on everything. Unlike some stiff American garage bands who resort to the same trick, the Hellacopters understand what the Stooges were talking about on "Shake Appeal": for all its raw power, Supershitty makes allusions to a time when rock and roll made people dance . . . or fuck. Whatever.

After winning the Grammy and touring Europe with Kiss, the 'Copters recorded 1997's Payin' the Dues (White Jazz, import), a mammoth, brilliant hard-rock album. In scope and originality, it's an Appetite for Destruction for a generation reared with punk as a given. One friend, reaching for descriptions after catching the 'Copters live, came up with a cross between the Supersuckers and "Def Leppard, without all the crap." With the exception of another Motör-punk song (this time it's a "Riot on the Rocks"), and a heavy-psych freakout ("Colapso Nervioso"), Payin' the Dues ditches Supershitty's excess garage baggage and still manages to maintain a general air of Stooginess even in the midst of its most extravagant metal-god ax grinding. It's a massive improvement over the first effort, and what's most impressive is the Hellacopters' ability to write actual hits: "Hey!" and "Soulseller" weren't released as singles just to appease vinyl-collecting garage rodents; and "Where the Action Is" and "Twist Action" coulda been Guns N' Roses if Axl had actually listened to punk instead of just pointing his pecker in its general direction every now and then.

The latest evidence available -- a seven-song Australian import, Disappointment Blues (Au-Go-Go) -- suggests there's a virile pop-anthem machine buried in there somewhere. "Heaven" and the title track are practically ballads (think young Ted Nugent bumping into Damn Yankees Ted Nugent, with Randy Rhodes sitting in), something that's all the more remarkable for the fact that those tunes are accompanied by a nasty AC/DC-style hard rocker, a Motörhead cover, and an utterly convincing lo-fi garage-punk number that proves they get the Lyres and Nomads as deeply as they get the Stooges. All of this was apparently enough to spark a bidding war over the Hellacopters here in the US, though rumor has it that they ain't sellin'.


Gluecifer

Never let it be said that Gluecifer don't wear their influences on their sleeves. One of their niftiest tricks on 1997's Ridin' the Tiger (White Jazz, import) was using the verse/chord progression from Minor Threat's "In My Eyes" as the chorus to "We're Out Loud," an otherwise totally AC/DC-fied barrage where the singer gets all screechy-yowly like the dude from Venom. And in case you somehow miss all the sonic references, the disc facetiously gives a co-writing credit on each song, to, in the following order, Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Keith Richards, Lemmy Kilmeister, Ron Asheton, Tommy Iommi, Ted Nugent, and Glenn Danzig. Then again, maybe they're just covering their asses in the event of a lawsuit. In another startling celebrity appearance, Fender Rhodes piano is credited to Boba Fett -- in fact, he's also credited on the Hellacopters discs, but Gluecifer go the 'Copters one better by doing a song called "Obi Damned Kenobi." Furthermore, the last song on Ridin' the Tiger is a cover of "Prime Mover" by Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, the zany '80s cult sleaze-metal band whose dreadlocked acid-horror shtick predated White Zombie's, and whose masterpiece Tattooed Beat Messiah may end up being the 96 Tears of this stuff if it catches on.

These Norwegians followed up last year with the loquaciously titled Soaring with Eagles at Night To Rise with the Pigs in the Morning (White Jazz, import), which began by marrying "Detroit Rock City" to Danzig's "Soul on Fire" ("Bossheaded") and never looked back. Soaring with Eagles takes their Kiss fixation to absurdist flights of fancy -- to the point that they often adopt those goofy/bouncy Peter Criss beats and end up rewriting Kiss tunes that are, themselves, rewrites of older, better Kiss tunes. On the one hand, it's way better than Psycho Circus, but nothing here matches the evil speed-demon stiffness of Tiger's "Rockthrone" and "Burnin' White," which were just about as hard-rock as punk gets.


Turbonegro

Although they were the longest-running of the bunch and, technically, the first Scandinavian-wave act to release material in the US, there was no evidence to suggest that Turbonegro had anything in them even remotely as masterful as Apocalypse Dudes (Boomba, 1998; out this week on Man's Ruin). A formative line-up toured the US as early as 1990, and Sympathy for the Record Industry released an EP, (He's a) Grunge Whore, which supposedly predicted Kurt Cobain's death and featured Eugene Chadbourne on banjo, as well as 1995's Ass Cobra. The latter is a mostly crummy doom-punk album that would have been wholly unremarkable if not for the novelty of "I Got Erection" and "The Midnight NAMBLA" (on which a young boy is heard to sob, and the singer delivers lines like "That's what I am/I'm an ugly man coming after your asshole").

What happened in the intervening three years is anyone's guess (a crossroads deal with the Devil is definitely not out of the question). But by the time Apocalypse Dudes climaxes (with a song in which the singer's demand for "Good Head" takes on the kind of lacerating existential immediacy with which the Sex Pistols demanded anarchy), Turbonegro reveal the Great Acts in contemporary American rock and roll -- Monster Magnet, Nashville Pussy, Rocket from the Crypt, Electric Frankenstein -- to be mere preludes to the main event. Listening to the CD is at first a blur of double takes, a fast-and-furious déjà vu, like some secret desert Ramones session produced by Mutt Lange with Mick Ronson and Johnny Thunders sitting in. But attempts at deconstruction become almost redundant, since the band are so obvious about whose hog they're riding. And so the only avenue left is complete submission to their multifaceted, incorrigible rockingness.

Like the Hellacopters, Turbonegro are worshippers at the church of Stooge ("Humiliation Street" is only a scant few DNA molecules from being an exact copy of "Gimme Danger"). And their Apocalypse Dudes are also über-masculine woolly-mammoth versions of Bowie/Slade's foppish young boogaloo dudes: all Dolled up, hot to trot and on the prowl for boys or, hell, whatever crosses their path ("Achtung! Mouth, ass, and pussy!" declared bassist Happy-Tom to one interviewer). "Prince of the Rodeo," "Zillion Dollar Sadist," and "Are You Ready (For Some Darkness)" (which asks, "Do you wanna suck the goat tonight?", and then warns, "Gimme a kiss/But don't gimme no lip") prove they've got an itch in their cosmic pocket that makes the boy from Hope's look like a diaper rash. And having fashioned a version of cock rock wholly superior to punk in a year when the most powerful man in the world was caught with dick in hand, they promptly called it quits -- there are some acts you just can't top.


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