Saturday, March 5, 2011

March 5: The Gun Club, "Sex Beat"

Artist: The Gun Club
Song: "Sex Beat"
Album: Fire Of Love
Year: 1981

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Though it is rarely given the credit that it deserves, the punk and rock scenes of the early 1980's in Los Angeles stands as one of the most creative and diverse musical communities in history.  While it was responsible for some of the most fierce and unapologetic punk and hardcore ever, the city also yielded amazing innovation and originality, as bands found different ways to fuse together these sounds with their own personal influences.  It was out of this scene that bands like The Blasters, X, and The Cramps were birthed, ad yet there is another band that was so exceptional, so uniquely brilliant, that they remain in a category all their own.  Mixing together the urgency of punk rock with a far darker overall sound, and placing over it an distinctive psychobilly sound, there has simply never been another band in history quite like The Gun Club.  The band brought a far more roots-based sound to their songs, and this enabled them to cross over into other fan bases, and much the reason they remain such legends to this day.  It was The Gun Club's monumental 1981 debut, Fire Of Love, that quickly proved how unique they were as a band, and at just over forty minutes in length, it remains the definitive roots-style, post punk album.  There is not an off moment anywhere on the record, but one can make the case that to fully understand just why The Gun Club were such a phenomenal band, one need only experience their stunning 1981 song, "Sex Beat."

From the very moment that "Sex Beat" begins, the urgency and energy of the band is on display, and there are few songs in history that can keep up with the pace and feeling they deploy throughout the entire song.  Even the lone, opening guitar riff from Ward Dotson has a power and swagger within, and this progression immediately draws the listener completely into the world that the band has created with their music.  The rest of the band quickly joins, and the cymbal smash from Terry Graham almost comes off as a sort of signal or warning of what is to come.  Bassist Rob Ritter provides one of the most intimidating, yet powerful basslines ever recorded, and he is able to inject a dark, deep groove into the song.  With Jeffrey Lee Pierce adding a second guitar to the mix, the overall sound is amazingly powerful, and the tension the band creates on "Sex Beat" is truly second to none.  There is a uniquely nervous bounce that can be felt throughout the entire song, and it is this energy that makes the song so unforgettable.  It is almost as if the band is running ahead at full speed, and they are trying their best to have the listener keep up with their pace.  This enables the song to take on a tone that seems to sit on the edge of chaos, yet it is clear that the band are masters of keeping things perfectly balanced.  It is in this aspect of the song that one realizes that "Sex Beat" is a rock song in its most pure form, and few songs better solidify the connection between rock and punk than what one can find within the The Gun Club's performance on this track.

However, the overall mood of the song is not complete until Jeffrey Lee Pierce begins his vocals, which remain today one of the most unmatched and absolutely brilliant moments in all of music history.  Pierce is able to take the energy and tension that the band has created and push it to an unthinkable level, and it is his performance that makes "Sex Beat" such an unsurpassed musical achievement.  This fast-paced, almost poetic spoken style is instantly recognizable, and there are a number of points during the song where he almost seems like he is channeling the spirit of Lou Reed.  As the song progresses, it sounds like Pierce is perhaps becoming completely possessed by the music over which he is singing, and in the later parts of the song, one can argue that the song itself has completely taken over, and he is simply letting it dictate how the vocals will fall.  It is also within his vocals that one can see a clear hip-hop style, and the brilliance cannot be denied in lines like, "...Jake's got a monkeyshine on his head and Debra Ann's got a tiger in her hip, they can twist and turn, they can move and burn...they can throw themselves against the wall, but they creep for what they need...and they explode to the call..."  It is the way in which Jeffrey Lee Pierce works these stunning word-plays together with the absolutely mesmerizing energy that enables "Sex Beat" to demand and secure the attention of every listener, and the song retains this quality even after hearing it hundreds of times.

Once one hears "Sex Beat," it is impossible to think of another song from anywhere in history that can boast a similar amount of tension.  The quick, almost punchy lyrical phrasings that Jeffrey Lee Pierce deploys throughout the song work as perfect compliments to the roaring music over which he is singing.  The combined personalities of these two forces cannot be fully understood unless one experiences "Sex Beat" firsthand, as The Gun Club are able to achieve a truly special musical moment with the song.  Each time Pierce yells out the word, "Go!," it seems as if he is commanding the band to attempt to dig in deeper and play harder and faster.  Somehow, the band manages to do just this, and the tension builds and builds, and one can argue that there is never a release of this amazing energy.  It is the way in which the band keep raising the bar, infusing influences from bands ranging from The Rolling Stones to Bo Diddley to Blondie, that makes it such an exciting and unique work of art, and it is this combination of sounds that influenced an entire generation of musicians that followed.  Moreso than any other song in the bands' catalog, "Sex Beat" defines their sound perfectly, as there are elements of country, punk, and blues all clearly present, and the dark, almost sleazy mood which the band creates is nothing short of stunning.  Looking back on the entire music scene of early-1980's Los Angeles, one can easily make the case that there was no other band that could measure up to the power and presence of The Gun Club, and there has never been another song that is even remotely similar to their blistering 1981 classic, "Sex Beat."

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