Monday, March 26, 2012
The Life - Alone Deluxe Edition
Speaking of lost treasures!
How the world managed to close their ears to the chiming guitar post-new wave of The Life back in the '80's is really one of the world's mysteries. Named the best Northwest band in 1987, The Life occupied a rare space in Seattle music history. They weren't new wave, they weren't grunge. What they were was brilliantly composed powerpop with a madman guitarist who could propel songs with the vibrancy of his Edge-inspired playing. Alone originally was released in 1987 to critical praise and world-wide indifference. Seattle just wasn't the musical nexus of the world yet. So the album vanished without a trace. A follow up album, Witness the Will, was recorded but never released. The band broke up. The Life became road dust on the rock n roll highway.
Tom Dyer, the eccentric genius who runs Green Monkey Records, has remastered and re-released Alone in all of its glory with the complete 17 track previously unreleased Witness the Will included as a bonus disc. An amazing collection of Life.
So what's it sound like?
Again, get past thoughts of Seattle as the birthplace of grunge. The Life took their cue from such post-punk bands as U2, The Silencers, and the Alarm. Big, resounding, chiming guitars, soaring melodies, and anthemic hook-em chorus. Just one listen to opener "If it Works (Don't Fix it)" and you'll get an idea of everything this band stands for -- bristling energy, big guitars and even bigger chops. Most importantly, while clearly taking inspiration from U2 and the Edge, The Life don't ape them. They simply fit right onto the same bill; as effortlessly and honestly as any American band I've ever heard who play that style of music. Add to their pristine sound, a slightly darkened edge and a little depravity and we really got something. Singer Jimm McIver isn't above roughening up his sweet tenor with guttural roars and the occasional punky wail. Meanwhile, deceased guitar firebrand, Tony Bortko was infamous for being a loose cannon, who'd spit on members of the audience if they looked at him wrong.
Now, I'd already had The Life in my collection before Green Monkey had re-released Alone. Long ago, after hearing two tracks from The Life on the Green Monkey Sampler album, It Crawled from the Basement, I simply had to have the album. Through a little diligence, I tracked down a copy on eBay and it was everything I'd hoped for. Still, as a fan, how could I not be excited about this Deluxe reissue with the entire unreleased second album included?
So, back to the music, shall we. Alone stands . . .er . . . alone as a perfectly crystallized moment of shimmering powerpop perfection. Each track, just as tuneful as the prior, each held together by the mesmerizing guitar work of Bortko and McIver's vaguely Bono-esque voice. And let's don't forget the contributions of Casey Allen on bass and Eric Lichter on drums who keep everything running straight on line. "Love by the Wayside," is another pristine example and a stark slap in the face of world-wide radio that they never picked this song up. Bortko's guitar simply goes wherever it wants in glistening, radiant runs. McIver keeps his voice mostly in check except when he needs to burst out, bringing just the right emotion to the song. The band is tight. The melody infections. The chorus memorable. Many will reflect on the U2 qualities of the song, but to me, The Life always sounded a bit more The Silencers, than U2, but still . . there it is.
So Alone is simply one of my favorite "unknown" albums. The question then is what's Witness the Will like and is it worth the fuss? And the answer is . . .oh yeah. Song's like "Down" sound even bigger than anything on Alone. More epic. Grander. This is lost arena rock of the '80's in the best sense of the world. Way too big for a small basement Seattle club. "Bridge of Bones," is the same. Simply a huge song in the best of the U2 tradition. "A Broken Man," busts out into a powerpop jangle-vibe of punchy guitars and perfect melodies. "The Dead" is angry and dark and heavy with its tribal drum and detuned guitars. "The Empty Space," rocks with an unbridled Plimsouls'-like abandon.
Conclusion: One of the great unheard albums in rock was immediately followed-up by one of the great unreleased albums in rock.
If you're a powerpop fan, or a fan of the chiming guitar pop of the late '80's, you've got a treat awaiting you. I got mine already. Go to Green Monkey and get yours.