Wes Anderson’s placement of Iggy & the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” in The Life Aquatic may initially come off as brutally obvious—Steve Zissou reaches his breaking point while under physical/psychological duress and opens a one-man can of whoopass on a boat full of marauding pirates—but it’s undeniably apt. “Search and Destroy”‘s (and the Stooges’) embrace of violence-in-stereo, a savage theater of rebirth through annihilation and all its Shiva-worshipping implications, is the ultimate rock and roll vessel for our deep-seated, adrenaline-fueled inhibitions. It’s eloquently trashy, primordially divine, the apotheosis of primitivism as Dionysus-seeking transcendence. So while it may have been obvious to sync Zissou, OK Corraling in flip-flops and bathrobe, to Ann Arbor sleaze-rock, it’s obvious only because no other song—no other band—would be more appropriate.
It’s nice to see this near-nihilistic rock re-enter the vocabulary of the mainstream, as it’s a shock-treatment reminder of past decades’ bloated savagery. (The White Stripes may perform with a similar beastly minimalism, but are nowhere near as recklessly overpowering). As far as 21st century equivalents go, the Brighton, UK quartet the Mutts are especially noteworthy. They forgo the sterilized, ‘80s-fied rock of the past year for something more ballsy and thrilling: that shared primal desire for rock and roll to singe and raze. The Mutts trample the path worn down by the Stooges, the New York Dolls, and the MC5, spinning thick, rumbling grooves built out of simple, bluesy guitar riffs. This isn’t revolutionary rock, but a realigning of tawdry menace with professional musicianship. Because like the Stooges, the Mutts are ridiculously (and surprisingly) tight; they are that prototypical “trashy” rock band that also happens to be better than the deceiving label.
The Mutts’ self-titled EP is six songs of sordid, tattered promise, a promise that will hopefully be realized in an upcoming full-length later this year. The opening track “Blasted”, with its dueling guitars hawking Detroit spit, is merely a warm-up exercise for the swaggering thunderbolt of “Shark”. Peppered with handclaps and anchored by a meaty bass line, “Shark” rides a fierce wake of seduction and infection. “Melted” cashes in the Vines’ outstanding promissory note, its guitars strung overhead like power lines on the stubborn, blockheaded pole of the bass. Both “Gamma Life” and “Neon Lights” rely on heavy blues riffage, issuing quick flashes of the knife before the closing “Uniform” welcomes an all-out street brawl.
The Mutts’ lead singer Chris Murtagh savors the nerve responses in his throat, delivering words so charred and emphatically slurred that he rarely strays from being unintelligible. He’s a beat-up Ian Brown dragged through the carpool lane (“Blasted”), Mick Jagger strutting out his best Iggy impression (“Shark”), a Hell’s Angel kicking “Radar Love” while it’s down (“Neon Lights”). Murtagh isn’t connecting through his words, but on a more guttural level of resonance where words are only worth the distorted shapes they create.
The Mutts blows by like a disaffected ode to audio destruction, fuzzy and edgy and elbowing its way through its surroundings. It’s rock and roll music that teeters on its own breaking point, seemingly from that era before punk rewrote the rules. Because when “Shark” hits the stereo, its big, dumb riff kicking in the sides of your head, you can feel it: that music-in-your-head adrenaline shot that speaks to your inner avenger. It’s not rock as revelation, but as enabler.
// Notes from the Road
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