Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
It’s funny what happened to punk rock. What started out as songs of rebellion and revolution morphed into bubble gum pop. What was once scary and forbidden became mainstream, accepted, and for commercial gain. Everything against the original punk ethos of music over profits and do it yourself. Well, the glass is half full, I tell ya. Here come the Flesh Eaters with I Used To Be Pretty. No only a new album, but a new lineup that is actually their 1980 lineup. It is a who’s who of LA punk and Americana: John Doe, Dave Alvin, Chris Desjardin, Bill Bateman, Steve Berlin, and DJ Bonebrake.
This is more of the punk “I don’t give a fuck” attitude than the formulaic punk that we are far too familiar with. There songs completely destroy the stereotypes. First of all, the shortest song on this collection is 2:49. That’s the shortest, with the longest song clocking in at over 13 minutes! Those song lengths are not considered conventional punk. Unless you are talking about the Butthole Surfers. And that is a different animal altogether.
I used to be pretty as well. I can certainly relate. If only I knew how pretty I was, maybe things would have turned out differently. That’s what his album does. It makes me think a lot.
Take the Green Manalishi (Track 4). This is a Fleetwood Mac cover from the Peter Green era. It is rare that you would associate a Fleetwood Mac song with punk unless you were listening to a punk cover of “Don’t Stop”. This is not that. This song pays homage to the band’s more humble and palatable beginnings. This starts off more like “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath than any Fleetwood Mac song I ever heard. And that gets me all jazzed up.
If you like a little bit of deception, the next song is for you. House Amid the Thickets (Track 2) sounds like Jim Morrison taking lead vocal duties for Howling Wolf’s band. This song has that B horror movie feeling to it. Let’s not forget the title, after all. I think that is the atmosphere the writers were going for. They set the stage with a lot of macabre instrumentation and wailing vocals. Imperfection at its perfection. The embodiment of the punk spirit.
I mentioned the shortest song on the album, which also happens to be the most traditional punk song among the group. This contains an up tempo with a very heavy power chord progression that puts this song squarely in 1977. Calling Pony Dress (Track 7) aggressive is like saying Willie Mays was a good baseball player. It just doesn’t go far enough, but you all get the gist.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I Used To Be Pretty is clearly working properly as designed. The Flesh Eaters took some Ramones and Television elements and mixed them with some Pere Ubu and Jesus Lizard weirdness. If you like your music a little left of center, this is right up your proverbial alley.