Every once in a while, a band comes along that invites you to turn back the clock, follow Sherman and Mr. Peabody into the Way-Back Machine, and remember what rock really sounded like circa 1976-1983, especially in seedy little dives like CBGB’s. That’s what The Gunga Din is all about. It’s a return to the Village, black leather, and strung-out nights.
Or is it? Maybe The Gunga Din is really about the amalgamation of rock over the last four decades. Maybe Jim Morrisson’s ghost is being channeled through a half-dead heroin junkie who grew up with MTV, boy bands, and the commercialization of all things sacred. Maybe. Maybe not.
The Gunga Din is one of those bands that seems like it can draw comparisons from all over the map. Vocalist Siobahn Duffy’s voice wavers hazily through the songs sounding for all the world like the love child of Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) and Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders). Guitarist Bill Bronson, who sings vocals on a few tracks as well intones a strange mix of Ian Curtis (Joy Division) and Brendan Perry (Dead Can Dance). The weird, spiky playing of a Farifasa organ through the tracks creeps down trippy Jefferson Airplane paths, but winding up more like a much darker and scarier Scooby Doo episode. Like maybe Shaggy’s finally having a bad trip on one too many Scooby Snacks. Yet all the while, the songs circle the void of oblivion that made punk music so damned attractive, teasing the listener to fall in.
That’s the only real problem with The Gunga Din. Because comparisons start flying, cliches are bound to follow. The songs themselves seem to echo the past in a way that might be ultra-modern, or even post-everything, but begin to blur and blend into a single tableau. Songs like “Glitterati” and “Let’s Play A Game” evoke images through a curtain of smoke and crunchy guitars, but the incessant Farifasa keeps up a staccato rhythm that lulls you into a spell and keeps you from dwelling on the meat of any one song for too long. If you crossed X with The Doors, took out the acoustic work and added a distorted yet hollow sound like Joy Division, you might come up with something approximate. See what I mean? You can’t stop finding references and comparisons. And after a while, it begins to wear you down.
That being said, it’s really an interesting album. Despite the fact that it requires a certain mood, like a Halloween party for twenty-somethings on drugs, to really delve into, it has an eclectic charm. It doesn’t surprise me that acts like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds demanded them as an opening act. Maybe if you go to New York, have a few drinks, and head to a hole like CBGB’s, the context will feel perfect. But if you can sit at home on the couch and listen to this band without dwelling on cliché and comparison, you’re a better man than I, Gunga Din.