Like any self-respecting garage band, Philadelphia-based—and difficult-to-Google unless you’re Russ Meyer!—foursome, Mondo Topless knows its way around a cover tune. For the band’s fifth album, Freaking Out, the group (singer/organist Sam Steinig; guitarist Kris Alutius; bassist Scott Rodgers; drummer Steve Thrash) puts their chops—and their record collections—on display. And while the band looks beyond the genre’s signature tunes with a few choice surprises, everything sounds like it’s been run through the Nuggets-O-Matic… which, for a garage band, is the goal, right? Right?
Repeated questions by annoying reviewers aside, Mondo Topless just wants to have a good time. On that front, they succeed, and the purists and cratediggers will find plenty to enjoy here. Opener “Nothing Can Bring Me Down” (by the Twilighters) sets the template early: Steinig’s vox and organ go crazy while Alutius, Rodgers and Thrash make like every act ever anointed “The Coolest Band in the World This Week” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
One highlight is when obscure Brit psych rockers the Drag Set earn a mini-revival with the sinister “Magic Potion”. The Electric Prunes’ Certified Nugget “Get Me to the World on Time” gets an enjoyable, if superfluous, update, as does Sonic’s Rendezvous Band’s “Asteroid B-612”, with Alutius’s wild solo, and its uncanny echoes of the Stooges’ “I Feel Alright”. And I’m sure I’m not the only listener who will investigate late ‘70s Midwesterners the Vertebrats—whose “Left in the Dark” gets a workout here—and mid-‘70s Nigerian band Question Mark, who provide the album’s title track.
At the risk of overthinking, Freaking Out represents a bit of a conundrum, both for the band and for the genre’s fans. Mondo Topless is a tried and true garage band, on a garage-friendly record label (Get Hip), playing three-minute organ-soaked stompers, per the genre dictates, as codified in 1965. Garage fans—myself definitely included—eat this stuff up. So who’s the target audience for Freaking Out‘s batch of originally non-garage tunes? Newbies hearing the Mondo take on Cream’s “SWLABR” or Camper Van Beethoven’s “(We’re A) Bad Trip” will wonder what the hell is going on (even if the former’s metamorphosis from paranoia to party time is pretty funny). And when the band talks about upsetting the “garage purist”, apple cart in the press kit with their musical selections, surely they know that the self-selected group is the majority, if not the entirety, of their audience.
If you’ve ever heard a garage band, you know what you’re getting into with Freaking Out. While that’s certainly not a bad thing, it’s not exactly a great thing either.