Overlooked Albums #33: X - More Fun In The New World
X made the early 80s bearable, keeping the punk spirit alive whilst so many of their peers ran aground in internecine squabbles. Far removed from the punk bastions of New York and London, X had their own take on urban decay. They lived in a vortex of collapsed hippie dreams, racial and social unrest, and Tinseltown failure. Their lyrics were put together like collages, mixing beat poetry with sunburned observations in the style of Raymond Chandler. More Fun In The New World was their fourth album, at the time less praised by critics after the jolting impact of the first three, yet this is where the group’s musical palette became broader.
There are a couple of references to The Clash on the album, but X is a more subtle band than their English counterparts. You won’t find grandstanding calls for revolution in these grooves. The album’s lead track, The New World, has the ominous marching beat of London Calling, but here the apocalypse only sweeps over the struggling have-nots. The song unfolds as a bar conversation, the indifferent, non-voting patrons now sensing that life has turned for the worse, that the prosperity promised by conservative pundits will never trickle down to them. It’s a catchy tune, gleefully sarcastic, and its delivery still manages to spit at self-interest doctrines.
The group is fronted by Exene Cervenka and John Doe, whose harmonies set them apart from their contemporaries. They are at their off-kilter best in We’re Having Much More Fun, a song about nighttime escapades to strange, unfamiliar places. Doe’s voice is sober, like reason itself; Cervenka’s is more passionate, sometimes scary, but they work in perfect sync as if they’re glued together, two sides of the story told by a sage and a mystic.
D.J. Bonebrake (drums) and Billy Zoom (guitar) are great musicians who know when to hold back. Let loose on songs like True Love and Make The Music Go Bang, all preconceptions about two-chord punk bands are shattered. They handle all styles of rock with red-hot intensity. Breathless, for instance, does proper honor to Jerry Lee Lewis’ original, Zoom’s sustained guitar lines giving new spit and polish to the bop tradition. Poor Girl is close in spirit to a Charles Bukowski poem, but this tale of despair unfolds with a Bo Diddley beat.
Bonebrake’s metronome ticks introduce I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts, which goes back to the folk tradition they would explore on later albums and in side projects. This is an outstanding stream-of-consciousness piece that deals with American guilt and facts we hate to talk about like mass starvation, sanctioned murder, and shameful machinations that are hidden from the public eye. The song could be describing the latest headlines. Thirty years on, nothing has changed.
The second half of the album opens with two noir visions of womanhood. Devil Doll is about a nasty girl who scares little kids, hard as a bullet. Painting The Town Blue tells the tale of a battered wife who takes refuge in bars. If love is a choke hold for her, she’s not alone. This is the common thread that binds the characters of Hot House, Drunk In My Past and I See Red – their lives stuck in neutral. Each of these cinematic dramas has a hard-edged soundtrack, as Doe and Cervenka act out the pain.
The brutal, metallic KO of I See Red leads to a change of pace. X gets funky for True Love Pt. #2, a pile-up of love metaphors from the weird to the ridiculous. Along the way, they tip their hats to artists such as Gene Vincent, Tammy Wynette and Curtis Mayfield, playing snippets of their songs. This joyous romp ends the record on a high note, an all-inclusive celebration of the power of music.
More Fun In The New World was the fourth and last record produced by the late, great Ray Manzarek, which gives us a clue to X’s first misstep as a group. Ain’t Love Grand!, their next album, was an attempt to achieve mainstream success, but its slick production alienated old fans and made the group lose traction. Far worthier of the name are their last two studio albums, plus the roots music recorded as The Knitters, their side group.
A long hiatus has allowed the band members to forge diverse career paths, but X is still an ongoing group, and their rousing shows draw a mix of old and new fans. This September they will be on tour with Blondie. If they come to your city, don’t miss the chance to see a great American band.3 September, 2013 - 07:33 — Angel Aguilar