[27 March 2014]
When it was released, “Don’t Wanna”, the suave lead single from Howler’s second record World of Joy, suggested wonder waif Jordan Gatesmith and his outlaw gang of snake-hipped streetpunks may have changed their ways. Y’know, put away childish things, cut their hair, washed their jeans. Their 2012 debut America Give Up was a mayhem Molotov of degenerate delinquency, spraypainted brassy and bold with the slumdog sounds of the Ramones and Iggy Pop. Albeit via Hanna Barbera. Yet this new missive was surprisingly reflective, wise, and darn it, subtly inspiring. A bonfire to youthful folly. Being Kurt Cobain? Listening to the Smiths and the Germs? Getting a job? Being a punk? Dating a girl? A boy? Pah. Kids you don’t have to do it if YOU don’t wanna. A ravishing ray of vintage guitar sunshine and a comrade’s salute to individual freedom, tossin’ your homework onto the fire, tackling The Man and flipping the bird to the asphyxiating shackles of hipsterdom. Accompanied by a celestial twisterella of Peter Buck “Rickenbacker 360” melodia, the Replacements’ swaggering sincerity and a breezy bohemian backbeat you could nod sagely to whilst burning your bra. Yeah, even if you’re a dude. Gatesmith, righteous and reborn by a moment of inspired clarity, swinging his Joe Strummer Bullshit Detector and calling across the airwaves, “The only thing that should frighten you is NOTHIN’!” Children of the revolution! We, the geeks, shall inherit the earth!
Alas “Don’t Wanna” proves to be a Filet-O-Red-Herring. If anything World of Joy is faster, louder, filthier and scruffier than its predecessor. But Howler remain ridiculously, raucously entertaining and Dammit, Chloé! we didn’t come to Rock N’ Roll High School to learn no Algebra. Talented (though no longer teenaged) tearaway Gatesmith may now be into his twenties but he’s clearly intent on growing old disgracefully. The unashamed and reassuringly unpretentious World of Joy raises a sloppy toast to the anarchic abandon and non-conformity of Rock N’ Roll and in the immortal words of Lord Bob of Dylan, “Play it fuckin’ LOUD!”.
Ten songs. Twenty-eight minutes. A Rock n’ Roll bank heist in clown masks. Get in, fuck shit up, get out. A ring-a-ding-ding of “None-more-goofy” cowbell triggers the alarm with “Al’s Coral” before a rallying cry of “Freedom is never free!” Gatesmith and company tear through town like Brando in The Wild One rolling a burnin’ wheel of denim, leather and Bad Attitude. One croaked voice scorched from Malt ‘n Marlboros with a hurricane chaser chorus that’ll shatter all the windows in sight, “Jesus is on my side / But I don’t want him” it spits from behind Wayfarers. There goes the neighbourhood.
If you’re down for the ride keep your seatbelt on. The adrenalin-racing “Drip” is the Cramps on steroids, speed and spacedust, “Drip! Drip! Put him on the drip!” Akin to spending two minutes strapped tight into a G-Force rollercoaster it’s both face-meltingly furious and utterly, utterly stupid. The go-go verses of “Yacht Boys” surf the breezy Rockaway beaches of ‘60’s drive-ins, B-movies and greasers with switchblades before diving into what sounds suspiciously like the Damned’s “New Rose” for its chorus. “No-No-Nothing ever happens!” it wails. All at breakneck speed and headfirst, naturally. It is so sugar-high hyperactive if you tried turning the volume down it’d turn itself back up, by sheer willpower alone. Things get a tad trippier on the title track though. A swarm of killer bees buzz you into 1967 as Gatesmith resurrects the Stones’ “2000 Light Years From Home” possibly whilst wearing a Crowley cape and a Batman cowl. A hypnotic heads-down boogie with Novoselic-worthy jumbo bass, “World of joy! / World of joy!” it drives deliriously into a wall of white noise. As World of Joy perhaps becomes a bit “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go” repetitive at times, more deviant deviations like this off-roading “Bizarro el Gonzo” could help steer Howling III: The Freaks toward more unpredictable terrain.
If World of Joy ultimately lacks the barrage of killer Jukebox 45’s (“Back of Your Neck”, “Told You Once”) that broadened America Give Up‘s appeal Gatesmith is still canny enough to slip some whistlers between the howlers. “Indictment” is adorably charming in a characteristically scrappy, shambolic way. Picture a remorseful, repentant Iggy Pop singing a comic confessional to the tune of the Primitives’ “Crash” while flanked by cherubic doo-wop harmonies, “Help me Jesus…I swear to you I never burned down no church”. “Louise” comes closer still to tickling the Big Pop Song klaxon. A ‘50’s prom heartbreaker double-dipped in grunge, engine oil and tattooed tears, “LOU-IIIISE! Oh pleeease! / I wanna tell you that I love you / But I know it’s not enough.” Elsewhere the fiery “In The Red” is Replacements’ brand power-pop with its hooks buried deep under a “Fuck off” blitzkrieg bop of bluster and bravado. Only “Here’s The Itch That Creeps Through My Skull”—basically “Yo, Howler’s for Lovers Too”—trips and lands on its arse. Gatesmith is cast as a Morrissey-esque tortured poet pouring out his heart into a bottle of wine, as “the world won’t listen and it will not wait.” It’s got “Reel Around the Fountain” six-string shimmer and Spector-spun swing, but Gatesmith ain’t no velvety chanteuse and the whole affair seems, well, awkward.
The vivacious, visceral World of Joy is the musical equivalent of riding a well-worn mechanical bull. It moves bloody fast, you’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll hurl, you’ll be thrown off. An inadvisable pursuit for most responsible adults, yes, but irresistibly giddy in small doses. It sure would’ve been nice to travel a little further with the wise Howler Owls that delivered the sublimely cool “Don’t Wanna” though and they’re definitely gonna need to master some new moves if they plan on sticking around, but World of Joy still kicks. Only a true curmudgeon could hear such mischievous merrymaking and not want to kick off their Sunday shoes and hop on the back of Howler’s bike, or their bull for that matter.