Musical discovery is a weird and wonderful thing. Often when I think I've heard it all, something crawls into my field of vision to again prove me wrong.
This thing crawled up a couple of years ago - February 2009, to be exact - but it's a sound and a story that consistently reminds me of the power of music.
Death was a power trio formed in Detroit in 1971 by brothers David, Bobby and Dannis Hackney. Originally an R&B act, they quickly transformed into a harder outfit after seeing an Alice Cooper show.
And then in 1974 they crafted a blistering demo that presaged what was just around the corner with acts like Ramones, Wire, and predated celebrated Bad Brains by nearly five years. Their tracks “Politicians In My Eyes,” “Freakin Out,” and “Keep On Knocking” absolutely tear it up and still sound relevant today.
Death garnered a lot of print in 2009. They were the discovery of that year. Or rather, the "rediscovery," because that's when those 1974 demo tapes were finally released as …For The Whole World To See.
They got major reviews out of the NY Times, NPR, and no less a punk/garage revivalist than Jack White has said of Death, “The first time the stereo played ‘Politicians in My Eyes,’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When I was told the history of the band and what year they recorded this music, it just didn’t make sense. Ahead of punk, and ahead of their time.”
I've heard it said that Death sounds like what might've happened if Hendrix had gone punk. I'm not entirely sure about that, but it does give you a ballpark for your expectations.
Death hits the ground running with the first track, "Keep On Knocking." You can almost get to the Hendrix comparisons. The string bending leads and screaming, stuttering punctuations in guitarist David’s style seem to owe more to Jimi than to the staccato 16th notes of other notable punk bands at the time.
Not that Death didn’t also bring those sensibilities. “Freakin Out,” with its frantic, jumpy riffs is one of those proto-punk songs that were just beginning to be written, and this is one stands up with the best of them.
“Rock-N-Roll Victim” and “You’re A Prisoner” were natural and logical progressions of the hard rock that inspired the brothers such as MC5 and Alice Cooper.
“Let The World Turn” is the most experimental number on the album, alternating between slower, open, contemplative turns and those bending, screaming guitar leads.
“Politicians In My Eyes,” the album closer, is propelled by a galloping bass line, driving drums, and accentuated by quick punching guitar chords until, ultimately, with a guitar solo that builds on its repetition, David threatens to pull the song out of balance.
Death were not the originators of punk as so much of the hype professed. They did not create their music in a vacuum, and have cited many influences. They were absolutely at the forefront of that movement, though, and can be counted as having contributed to the sound.
Still, I simply fail to understand how this music remained buried and unheard for so long. It needed to be released and it needs to be heard.
Showbiz Kids Rating: 8.0 out of 10.0 "Highly recommended"