Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17: The Germs, "Lexicon Devil"

Artist: The Germs
Song: "Lexicon Devil"
Album: G.I.
Year: 1979

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Within the world of punk rock, it is almost always the simplistic musical form that gives the song its identity, and yet one can make the case than when any aspect of the music works against this idea, it is often in these situations that the true "punk classics" can be found.  While the all-out attack and attitude of punk must be present, over the decades it has been proven that everything from extended solos to non-traditional instrumentation can be properly worked into the punk rock formula.  However, as the 1970's came to a close, punk was on display in its most pure and basic form, and few groups embodied the true anarchic spirit of the style in a similar way to the music one finds in the short lived, but unquestionably legendary band, The Germs.  Representing the almost cliché idea of "live fast, die young" in a manner which remains unmatched, the groups' only LP released when they were still together, 1979's G.I., remains one of the greatest punk albums in history, and few records depict the entire L.A. punk scene as perfectly.  Clearly holding absolutely nothing back, G.I. is unsettling in a completely unique manner, and yet there is an order within the seemingly chaotic sound that is the key to the brilliance that "is" The Germs.  With every track on the album standing as a punk classic, few songs better capture everything that makes The Germs so legendary than one can experience in their unparalleled 1979 song, "Lexicon Devil."

In the true spirit of punk rock, "Lexicon Devil" wastes absolutely no time, quickly setting the mood and pace, as the song opens with a grinding guitar riff from the great Pat Smear.  His sound doubles, building the intensity, and though it only lasts a number of seconds before the rest of the band joins in, the enevry he creates within that span enables the song to have a unique perosnality before the lyrics even begin.  After this piece, the superb rhythm section of bassist Lorna Doom and drummer Don Bolles join, and the combined sound of these three is truly unrivaled.  Never letting the energy or tempo up for even a moment, the bass whips around the song, taking a far more forward place in the mix than nearly anything else being recorded at the time.  This sound helps the song to gain a unique sense of intensity and it also gives "Lexicon Devil" an attack unlike anything else in punk history.  Bolles' drumming is equally impressive, as few songs represent the idea of a performer attempting to destroy their kit as one finds here.  Much like the guitar playing, there is a nervous, almost manic feel to Bolles' playing, and it is this aspect that gives the song much of its personality.  The way in which the trio build and release the tension throughout the song is a testament to their talents, and looking back on their previous EP efforts, this recording of "Lexicon Devil" perfectly displays just how much they have grown as musicians.

However, while one cannot overlook the phenomenal musical arrangement on "Lexicon Devil," there is little question that the focus of the entire song is on the vocal work of the late, great Darby Crash.  Without question, Crash personified the "live fast, die young" idea, as well as the almost vicious, yet cathartic style of punk rock.  Though his recorded career was tragically short, on the G.I. version of "Lexicon Devil," one can hear how his delivery has matured from a chaotic groaning into a pointed, focused ranting attack.  Yet there is something uniquely intriguing, if not mesmerizing within Crash's voice, and one simply cannot ignore his performance.  It is in this fact that one can delve deeper into the lyrics of the song, and in this, one can find the true genius of Darby Crash, as there was no other vocalist that attempted to squeeze and many words into a punk song as one can find on "Lexicon Devil."  The pace at which he sings is almost dizzying, and yet one can feel that each word had a massive amount of importance, and was not to be overlooked.  Standing as a rant against the world as a whole, few lyrics hit as hard as when Crash delivers the lines, "...I'll get silver guns to drip old blood, let's give this established joke a shove, we're gonna wreak havoc on the rancid mill, I'm serachin' for something even if I'm killed..."  There is never a question of the authenticity in Crash's vocals, and it is this fact, combined with his intensity, that makes "Lexicon Devil" such a stunning recording.

Truth be told, there are actually two "formal" recordings of "Lexicon Devil" within the catalog of The Germs, the first appearing on the 1978 EP of the same name.  This early version features a slightly different lineup, and the "bite" found on the later recording is clearly not present.  Though the recording dates were only months apart, one can hear a massive difference within the bands' sound, and it is this fact that leaves one to wonder "what could have been" had the band not imploded shortly after the release of G.I., with Crash taking his own life a few months later.  Thankfully, G.I. remains a breathtaking document of the absolutely unrivaled level of musical intensity that The Germs were able to create, and nearly every punk band that followed after them borrowed from their sound in some way.  In comparison, few bands were able to create music that was as confrontational, yet musically unique as one finds in the songs of The Germs, and Pat Smear would go on to play guitar with the likes of Nirvana and Foo Fighters among others.  Though this makes it more obvious, it helps to show just how closely linked the punk and hardcore sounds were with the so-called "grunge" bands, and one cannot ignore the catchy, yet intimidating riffs put forth on nearly every Germs song.  Bringing a sound and approach that was brilliantly unique at the time, there has simply never been another band quite like The Germs, and one can quickly understand why they remain such icons by hearing their peerless 1979 song, "Lexicon Devil."

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