The Mooney Suzuki were one of the most underrated bands of the “rock revival”. While the Strokes and the Hives were changing the face of music with their fancy clothes and stylish hair, The Mooney Suzuki were delivering a similar and equally exciting brand of retro rock. Sadly, just as they began to make a name for themselves with their second full-length, Electric Sweat, the NYC three-piece stumbled. They signed with Columbia, dropped talented producer Jim Diamond (White Stripes, Dirtbombs) in favor of the gloss and sheen of the Matrix collective (Hillary Duff, Avril Lavigne, Liz Phair), and delivered 2004’s ambitious and truly appalling Alive & Amplified LP.
Now, having switched labels again—this time to Richard Branson’s indie-friendly V2 Records—The Mooney Suzuki follow their Columbia disaster with The Maximum Black EP—a re-release of their excellent self-titled debut, plus bonus tracks.
The six songs originally included on the so-called Black EP are the Mooney Suzuki at their very best. Each song combines the rough and soulful pop hooks of the early Who with the raw energy of The Stooges or The MC5—a perfect blend of mod and rock sounds. Lead singer Sammy James Jr. launches his breathless vocals over raging electric guitars, while drummer Will Rockwell (who has since left the band) does his best to lay claim to the modern day mantle of Keith Moon, knowing just when to keep a sharp and steady beat, and when to let loose with a rush of boiling cymbals and toms. The album’s standout tracks, “Half of My Heart” and “Dear Persephone”—both of which can also be found on 2000’s People Get Ready—are the kind of songs that would be instant classics in a perfect world, all catchy choruses and memorable riffs.
What makes The Maximum Black EP more than a shameless cash-grab of re-released material, however, is the disc’s second half. The five previously unreleased, “super bonus tracks” are more than just the usual studio-session rejects one expects to find at the end of an album like this. In fact, it’s hard to see why these tunes didn’t find a home on earlier albums. A little more melodic and less aggressive than the record’s first half, they highlight The Mooney Suzuki’s British Invasion influences; “Tell Me Why” could have been penned by Townshend himself, and their cover of Van Morrison’s Nuggets nugget, “I Can Only Give You Everything”, nearly equals the original. It’s these fresh tunes that lend the album enough depth and variety to transform an old EP into what might just be the band’s best record to date.
Like so many of their “rock revival” brethren, the Mooney Suzuki wear their influences on their sleeve. They aren’t about breaking new ground—the one time they tried, they failed miserably. When they stick to what they know, though, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Hopefully, the release of The Maximum Black EP and their return to an indie-oriented label signal their intent to regain their roots. If there were ever any doubt, this album proves it: straight up rock and roll—raw and unfiltered—is what the Mooney Suzuki do best.