[26 July 2004]
One of the main purposes of album-reviewing is to pinpoint who exactly would want to buy a particular album—if anyone—and why they should, or shouldn’t. The cover art for Coffin Lids’s debut album does at least half of my job for me. It is a close-up of a heavily tattooed forearm strumming a guitar illustrated with a decal version of the famous Night of the Living Dead poster. Next to the decal is the album’s title, Rock ‘N’ Roll. Yes. Just Rock ‘N’ Roll .
Your reaction to this cover will determine whether Coffin Lids are for you. If your response is a sarcastic “rock songs about zombies, yeah that’s original”, you probably don’t need this album in your collection, but wouldn’t mind it as background music for a party. If you thought that Night of the Living Dead was too boring, and vastly prefer the recent remake of Dawn of the Dead (because the zombies are faster) you will probably prefer a slickly produced neo-garage album from the likes of Jet or the Vines. Best of all, the cover should rightly repel all those who think that zombie movies are too scary, too stupid, or too blasphemous to be good entertainment.
Now that those consumers have been weeded out, I can address the band’s true audience: those who, when looking at the cover, would respond with an immediate and sincere, “Hell yeah!” Now, you probably already can make a few correct assumptions about Coffin Lids. For example, they play fast and short garage rock songs, adding just a hint of hardcore punk rock and a smidgen of gothy vocals to the mixture. Also, much like the A-Bones or the Mummies, Coffin Lids are fans of low production values, almost indecipherable lyrics about horror movies and cheap thrills, and guitar solos every bit as stupid, incompetent and genius as the one in “Louie Louie”. As to be expected, Coffin Lids are not maudlin, even when they sing about death (“One Foot in the Grave”), and they are not romantic even when they sing about love (“None Come Close”, “Be My Girl”). This is rock and roll in the old school sixties sense: it is not about art, or making a difference, or, worse of all, expressing oneself. It is about having an excuse to have a good time while acting like twelve-year-olds again.
Probably the Coffin Lids anthem is “Beer & Rock ‘N’ Roll”, particularly the moment when lead singer Coffin Mike announces that he doesn’t like “expensive wine, because it tastes like shit” and then explains that “beer and rock ‘n’ roll is all [he] wants”. This statement seems applicable to their music, as well as their nightlife. Coffin Lids aren’t trying to provide a complex and subtle experience, the “expensive wine” route of bands like Radiohead or Godspeed You! Black Emperor; they aim to be the Pabst Blue Ribbon of rock and roll: cheap, unpretentious and totally effective.
On second thought, “Beer & Rock ‘N’ Roll” is too wordy to be their anthem. Their true anthem is the opening “Coffin Lids Rock ‘N’ Roll”, which does away with any sort of lyric that could be analyzed at all. The song is just a riff and the phrase “Coffin Lids Rock ‘N’ Roll”. Why is this an acceptable anthem? Well, because it sums up what Coffin Lids’ Rock ‘N’ Roll is about, namely, Coffin Lids playing rock ‘n’ roll.
Coffin Lids’ number one weapon in their quest to play rock and roll music is their reliance on cheap production values. Most bands’ attempts at a lo-fi sound come from either necessity or a misguided desire for authenticity. The handheld cassette recorder quality sound on Rock ‘N’ Roll is more of a genuine aesthetic choice. The muddy recording quality provides a feeling of pure intimacy that helps reinforce the album’s house party atmosphere. The guitars and bass merge together into one monolithic sound, while the drums are either way too high or way too low in the mix. Close your eyes and it sounds like the band is playing very loudly in the apartment next door. Just how it is in the grade Z horror flicks that inspired the band, the cheapness of the entire project adds to its appeal.
It takes a certain type of intelligence to sound this dumb, and the album does contain hints that the band is smarter than its persona, although these hints are thankfully few. The Stooges-quoting “Eye on You” features a rumbling, fuzzy guitar riff stolen from the Sonics’ playbook with deft aplomb, while the cover of “Pipeline” proves that, if the fancy struck them, they could have been one of the world’s greatest bar bands. These little twists emerge from the lo-fi dumpster of sound just long enough to add enough personality to the proceedings to make this a worthwhile purchase for those of the “hell yeah” persuasion, even if they already own the entire Mummies discography.