So you say you're sick of garage. You've had enough of fuzzy, sloppy, three-chord songs. You want more from lyrics than girls and cars and beer. How about a little subtlety, you say -- a little finesse? Well, fuck you -- what you are is sick of rock and roll. You don't deserve The Dirtbombs. Go ahead. Moan along to Radiohead and Broken Social Scene. It suits you. Me, I'm gonna put on my boots and jeans and belly-button tee-shirt and get shit-faced to Dangerous Magical Noise
, the party album of the year. Don't bother to wait up.
The Dirtbombs are maybe the Detroit band, putting punk aggression behind Motown riffs, taunting every band that's ever experienced line-up problems with two basses and two drummers. They are led by Mick Collins, DIY guitarist and soul singer extraordinaire, and Jim Diamond, who has produced every "The" band you can think of. They have a deep knowledge of musical history -- see the band's excellent, eccentric choice of soul covers on 2001's Ultraglide in Black -- but there's nothing museum quality about their sound. For all you kids who think garage started with The Strokes and is now irrevocably over, The Dirtbombs bring back the living ghosts of MC5, Motown and The Stooges, give them a case of beer and get them dancing again.
Dangerous Magical Noise falls somewhere in between The Dirtbombs' two previous albums; it's neither as punk sloppy as Horndog Fest, nor as Motown smooth as Ultraglide in Black. Not that there aren't examples of both. On the punk side, "Start the Party" nearly drives the CD over the embankment right from the start. The drums push, the guitars lag, and the "live" applause at the end sounds improbably like the Beatles at Shea. It's a mess, but a wonderful mess, saved by the same driving energy that nearly tears it apart. At the other end of the spectrum, "Sun Is Shining" is a slow Stax lament, Collins doing Otis and the band taking on Booker T. From there, it churns into an explosive chorus with that fuzzy, staticky Dirtbombs guitar on top. It is followed by the excellent "Earthquake Heart", which melds Bo Diddley guitar licks with Nuggets-era boy band singing.
"Thunder in the Sky" shows why it's good to have two drummers, its tom-tom beat exploding like a ruptured heart. Same goes for "Motor City Baby", the bluesy boogie that lays high vocals against the deep, deep pound of drums. It's an album highlight, a track that will have you running back for your MC5 records. Following it, "Stuck in Thee Garage" rants against genre classification, references Dirtbombs compatriot Billy Childish and rocks as hard as it can go. "One more," somebody says at the end, and hell yes, here it comes, "Stuck in thee garage."
The album's three best songs come next. First there's the drum-fueled fury of "I'm Through with White Girls" (which also appeared on Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit in 2001). I love the percolating bass line; try to play it on the piano and you'll find that it can't be done. The second note falls between B and C, and if you play them together, it almost sounds right. Still, this is clearly not a keyboard song. It's all muscular bass and driving percussion and shouted "heys". There's a great moment early on where the band stops dead, Collins breathes into the mike, then the band kicks in again. It's an almost perfect instance of expectation, wait, payoff, except that the band comes in in a splat, not quite together after. Sloppy, yes, but that's part of the deal and part of what you have to love about The Dirtbombs. "Stop" (which appears to have been switched with "21st Century Fox" too late in the game to change the track listing) reveals the band's punk roots, putting a Pixies bassline under a very fluid vocal. Then it's on to the rocking "21st Century Fox", with its heavy, Stonesy riff, extended guitar solo and shouted lustful lyrics. The album closes with "F.I.D.O.", its most sweeping and graceful track, which takes you off into the sunset in a glorious, hazy chorus.
The Dirtbombs are a great band at the top of their game. Dangerous Magical Noise is rock and roll at its pure, shaggy best. If you're tired of that, you're tired of life.