Maybe the Nekromantix were a great idea that is running out of steam only now, as they release their sixth album, Return of the Loving Dead, the first to be released here in the States. I’m sure there are quite a few fans of the band here who have purchased their previous albums as imports, and they may well tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. But if this is the state that psychobilly is in these days, I’ll just listen to the same old stuff I’ve had since the ‘70s or crank up some Eddie Cochran or Link Wray reissues.
One problem is that Nekromantix don’t seem to have a lot true rockabilly influence, preferring instead to play a revved-up speed punk type of sound. While that is part of the psychobilly legacy (check out Reverend Horton Heat for some songs at breakneck tempo that really rock), it is by no means the whole enchilada. Guitarist Peter Sandorff is not nearly good enough or bad enough to carry off this type of music. To play psychobilly effectively, one must either be able to rip off a really hot guitar solo a la Heat or Billy Zoom, or provide so much reverb and feedback that it doesn’t really matter that one is merely playing a rehashed bass line a la Link Wray or Ivy Rorsach of the Cramps.
Then there’s the matter of vocals. Kim Nekroman, who plays the coffinbass (his homemade slap bass in the shape of a coffin) and does lead vocals, lacks the unrestrained histrionics of a Lux Interior, opting instead for a Billy Idol-esque vocal technique that doesn’t allow one to identify the humor in lyrics like “I asked her out, she laughed & said ‘no way’ / Told me she would never date such a geek / For that remark I way she’s gonna pay / I hat when people call me a freak!” In fact, Nekromantix miss a key element in psychobilly and punk in general, and that is humor. They just don’t put it across well. Murder is an acceptable subject for these types of songs, as in the Ramones’ “You Should Never Have Opened that Door”, but you never believed Joey to be an actual serial killer (Dee Dee, maybe). Likewise, when Lux Interior sings “I cut your head off and put it in my TV set”, you figure he’s probably seen one too many horror flicks or dropped some bad acid. When Nekromantix sing “Who Killed the cheerleader? / You Did . . . you did, oh no . . . It wasn’t me at all / Who raped the prom queen? He did, he did . . . / Yeah, right and she was having a ball”, it’s difficult to see the humor or the kitschy pop culture reference. In fact, it’s pretty damn hard to care what the hell they were doing or intended. The problem is that Nekromantix don’t come off convincingly as either rockabilly musicians or as B-grade movie buffs. Though the titles of their songs (“Nice Day for a Resurrection”, “RubberMonks and LeatherNuns”, “Gorgoyles Over Copenhagen”) are promising, the individual verses and choruses just don’t live up to that promise.
Nekroman started the band back in the early ‘90s. “At that time, psychobilly had already existed for like, 10 years. But this was like a kind of new generation, even harder than before. . . . We took everything from metal to whatever . . .” Metal? Perhaps that’s why Nekromantix have more in common with Ozzy Osbourne (the one on TV, not the one on the early Sabbath albums) than with psychobilly.
Of course, nearly all psychobilly bands suffer from a lack of the true craziness that inspired the writers of classic psychobilly/garage rock songs like “Goo Goo Muck”, “Primitive”, and “Caveman”, or even early rockabilly influenced performers like Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, or Gene Vincent; these were guys who really were out of control. Nekromantix are competent in some ways, but in the crazy, hopped-up world of psychobilly, they just don’t cut it. On those rare occasions when they do try to go for a legit rockabilly sound (as on “Haunted Cathouse”) it sounds as convincing as “Stray Cat Strut” did, which is to say not at all. The bottom line is that psychobilly may just be a genre, like Goth rock, that has outlived its usefulness and in which there is simply nothing new to do or say. But I doubt it. Because somewhere out there is probably a bunch of guys and/or gals in a basement reading old copies of Weird Tales or watching director’s cut DVD releases of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Carnival of Souls and listening to Nervous Norvus or Link Wray and learning to play guitar or drums (or maybe not learning to play at all) and they may just come up with a new twist on this tired genre. Unfortunately, Nekromantix aren’t that band.
// Notes from the Road
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