Straight out of San Francisco comes another band who’s trying to bring back the spirit of ‘77. That’s the first impression I had of The Richmond Sluts, who after building up a decent reputation in the San Fran punk scene have released their debut LP on Disaster Records. But that’s a half-truth. Although they try to carry the old school torch into the 21st century, it’s not the Pistols or even the Clash that’ll come to mind while spinning this disc, but instead the muddy rock of the mid-seventies that embraced the Rolling Stones, the Ramones, and glam rock all at once.
But is it punk? Well, yes, it is, but it’s punk that sets aside the “search and destroy” ethic for cocky swaggers and the rock and roll lifestyle. While The Richmond Sluts might not be anything particularly special, this approach is refreshingly fun, especially in a scene dominated by pop-punk and the anti-pop hardcore reactionaries. Before camps were so cleanly divided as they came to be in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, there was a confused moment when rock and roll was simply everything all at once, at least in theory, and The Richmond Sluts take you back to this mythical past.
The guitars are as messy and distorted as anything that punk produced in the seventies—low-fi, fuzzed out and full of simple riffs—but The Richmond Sluts throw in a sly organ that gives the songs a sound that sounds like The Gunga Din. No one is going to mistake the Sluts’ Justin Lynn for Ray Manzarek, as the organ has the kind of choppy feel that characterized seventies keyboards instead of sixties psychedelia, but it’s definitely a throwback sound to a time before synthesizers ruled. Songwriter and vocalist Shea Roberts can mumble and scream his songs just like any good punk, but he can also change gears and evoke a Mick Jagger (is it a coincidence that both bands have the initials RS - hmmm . . .?) or “Rebel Rebel”/“Suffragette City”-era Bowie. Nowhere is this more evident that the “lost Stones song”, “Drive Me Wild”.
Lyrically The Richmond Sluts are about as apolitical as punk rock gets. Songs like “Service for the Sick” and “Paddy Wagon” are somewhat typical with their themes of getting wasted on drugs and getting into fights. But the other side of the coin finds them singing sex songs like “Take You Home” and “Bittersweet Kiss”. “Take You Home”‘s opening verse of “I gotta, gotta give you some / Sweetheart I wanna make you come / I gotta, gotta give it to you / Sweetheart I wanna screw” may not be the most inspired poetry, but it’s what The Richmond Sluts are all about.
Frankly, I’d love to see these guys’ record collections. For a bunch of 20-something musicians in 2001 (main creative force Shea Roberts is a mere 21), these guys have a real sense of what the era they were born in might have sounded like. But if The Richmond Sluts suffer from anything it’s that their retro blend of punk and glam is their entire schtick. They’re actually surprisingly good at pulling it off, and it’s fun, but its also more or less irrelevant. They’re not going to bring back a revival by any means, and this isn’t an album you’d want to play over and over again. But for the sheer fun of rock and roll, and for a moment of living in the past, even a dream past, The Richmond Sluts are worth the time and money.