I saw Lyres perform in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1984 or ‘85. At the time, I thought they were pretty good: a sweaty, high-energy garage band who made up in verve and grit what they lacked in technical proficiency, which was a fair amount. They ripped through a set of tunes that pulled heavily from their 1984 album On Fyre, as well as a few that may have been from their debut EP release. I was particularly keen to hear them tear it up with the scorching “Help You Ann”, which they did with aplomb. Lead singer/Farfisa maestro Jeff Connolly was the first person I ever heard say the word “smegma” in public, as in, “This microphone’s got smegma on it!” My then-girlfriend turned to me and said, “Did he really just say that?” Ah, college life.
Cut to 30 years later: Lyres have been resuscitated as one of America’s great overlooked bands, deserving of much more than the cult status they’ve enjoyed since their last album, 1993’s Happy Now …, and subsequent breakups and re-formations. Now a pair of handsomely produced reissues goes a long way toward making the case for reassessment. I’ll be honest, it was a little strange hearing these songs again after 20-odd years. But Lyres still hold up as a great band, at least within their limitations, and “Help You Ann” still frickin’ smokes.
Both On Fyre and 1986’s Lyres Lyres have been reissued by Munster Records in slightly oversized packaging, with numerous bonus tracks on each album and extensively illustrated booklets. The sound has been cleaned up, just enough to clear some of the muffled tone but not so much as to destroy the pre-grunge grunginess.
Fans who bought the 1998 Matador reissue of On Fyre were treated to no fewer than ten bonus tracks. These albums offer the same tracks, but divided onto two discs, six on On Fyre and four on Lyres Lyres. Unlike with many other “bonus tracks”, these are songs well worth having, as they fit seamlessly into their respective records, and seem as though they were left off because of space constraints, not quality. However, owners of the Matador reissue will probably feel less impetus to buy these records as they already have the extra tunes. The booklet is interesting and the sound is sharp and dynamic, but that may not be enough to make the expenditure worth it.
As for the records themselves: I admit to a sentimental preference for On Fyre, although the other album has standout tracks too, especially, the funky, slow-building “You’ll Never Do It Baby”. Nothing on Lyres Lyres, though, can match “Help You Ann”, with its heavily processed guitar sound, machine-gun percussion and flying-over-the-edge-of-the-clliff vocals. In fact, it’s such a tight little pop gem that it takes some time for the album to recover, although the straightforward stomp of “I Really Want You Right Now” is mightily pleasing, and the stop-and-start rhythms of “Soapy” will prove irresistible to just about anyone with a pulse. Other standout tracks on On Fyre include “Not Like the Other One,” with its ragged guitar chords and Connolly’s wavering vocals, and the ascending chord progression of the snaky, sinewy Farfisa-makes-love-to-guitar triumph “Dolly”. The stutter-stepping “How Could Have I Done All Those Things” (you read that title right) is such a perfect piece of garage-rock that one wonders how it was ever left off the original album.
Lyres Lyres has its share of good songs too—and may even benefit from better bonus tracks, including a rave-up version of “She Pays the Rent”, which appears earlier on the record in a slower form. Other standouts include the aforementioned “You’ll Never Do It Baby” plus “I Love Her Still, Always Will”, which sounds so much like the Byrds’ version of “House of the Rising Sun” that it’s a wonder the band wasn’t sued for copyright infringement. “The Only Thing” mines a murkier, atmospheric, almost psychedelic vein, while “Busy Men” piles on the guitar effects and ramps up the volume for a good old-fashioned freak-out.
Either of these albums could make claim for being the better of the two. Really, though, why argue? These are both such solid little rock and roll records, it seems pointless to limit oneself to just one. Both On Fyre and Lyres Lyres have their share of standout moments—as well as, it must be admitted, their share of rough spots—that it’s pretty much a coin toss as to which one is preferable. What’s great is that these reissues have been done at all, perhaps signalling that it’s time for one of the great overlooked bands to finally enjoy some newfound appreciation.