...For The Whole World to See (Drag City, 02.09)
For: The Stooges, The Who, Bad Brains
Byline: Prisoners of Rock and Roll. Proto-Punk from three African American brothers that was light years ahead of its time.
1971. Yeah, 1971. Why is this year significant? Because this is the real year punk broke. This is a story that should be legendary, shoot, this band should be legendary, but like a lot of visionary bands Death fell to the ax of the major label before the general populous could understand their genius. After watching the Beatles on Ed Sullivan three African American brothers from Detroit picked up instruments and began playing Rhythm and Blues standards and Rock and Roll classics. This was before they saw Alice Cooper perform live. It was after that that everything changed. I don't know what happened but in 1971 Death entered into the recording studio, churning out 7 songs that have been lost to the world until the nice folks at Drag City did us all a solid and salvaged the master tapes and re-released a truly epic proto-punk masterpiece. Knowing nothing about this back story this album would stand on its own. Truly arresting from the first windmilled power chord of "Keep on Knocking" to the last strangled riff on "Politicians in My Eyes", Death were visionaries in every sense of the word, heralding a musical trend that wouldn't be coined for at least 7 years to come (this was before the internet). Death's music encapsulates everything we love about early punk recordings, loud, agitated, political, extremely melodic. Blasting through standard punk tropes in "Rock and Roll Prisoner", "Keep on Knocking" and "You're a Prisoner" sound way more blistering and frentic than anything that was put out at the time, this type of hyper melodicism wouldn't be matched until the early nineties when the SoCal punk bands pretended they were the Ramones. On it's own merits of these songs make a name for themselves, but it is the left-field flourishes that help ...For the Whole World to See to stand head and shoulders over any of their contemporaries. "Let the World Turn" is written as a Kinks like suite, with lengthy segues of an occasional major chord strummed guitar as Bobby Hackney's soulful croon fills the gaps between the silence, all this before breaking into a hyper ballad of three chord sonic assaults and a 45 second drum solo. "Freakin' Out" has a type of paranoid breakdown that owes its hugeness to an obvious Black Sabbath tip of the hat. Listening to Death is to peek into an alternate reality that might have been, Detroit could have been the next San Francisco, a haven for post-sixties wounded idealists who wanted to baptize themselves in the chemical choked rivers and machine gun clatter of the auto plants, they could have formed a truly dangerous coalition of pissed off anti-establishmentarians, with three black brothers calling themselves Death leading the charge. Sadly, they broke up in the same year refusing to change their name at Clive Davis' request. How punk rock is that? Huh, 1971!