Tokyo Sex Destruction: Black Noise is the New Sound

[26 October 2004]

By Patrick Schabe

Tokyo Sex Destruction is completely sincere. Despite wielding a near perfect band name for a group of arch ironists—really, how much further can you deconstruct rock and roll beyond exoticism, sex, and violence—Tokyo Sex Destruction is not here to win you over with a sly smile or bemused aloofness. Tokyo Sex Destruction means business. Tokyo Sex Destruction is serious about its love for ‘60s radical politics, and this time out it’s proving it’s serious about its love for ‘60s music.

With its 2003 debut, Le Red Soul Communique, Tokyo Sex Destruction presented itself as a group of retro-minded musicians trying to reinvigorate the past in words and in sound. Rather than simply reference the revolutionary spirit of a bygone age, the group went for the total package. All the band members adopted the last name Sinclair in honor of musician and activist John Sinclair, founder of the White Panther Party, and, in an honest attempt to recreate the scene, Tokyo Sex Destruction did everything in its power to emulate Sinclair’s prodigies, the MC5. Members wore matching black uniforms and the band filled their songs with political rhetoric and anti-capitalist screeds. Oh yeah, and they did all this from their home country of Spain.

That a Spanish band might look back 35 years to a US musical-political environment as fans isn’t all that strange, but within the context of Spain itself it makes even more sense. That country’s long, drawn out version of the cultural revolution that swept the States and Europe in the ‘60s and ‘70s has been both protracted and enduring—developing slowly but maintaining a vibrance that other cultures quickly lost. In this environment, youth culture is bound to latch onto hero radicals, and Sinclair’s early belief in fusing politics with music in the form of aggressive rock and roll has been an enduring theme in cultures the world over.

Unfortunately, Le Red Soul Communique didn’t play so well on the other side of the Atlantic. While the band’s commitment to the sounds of the MC5 and the Sonics won over some listeners (especially in light of the recent re-discovery of garage rock), the political sentiments were a tougher sell. For any number of cultural reasons, the taste for political agitprop is narrow (or rather, segmented by a large array of causes).

With Black Noise is the New Sound, Tokyo Sex Destruction concentrates more on the music than the rhetoric, and to worthy results. The band shows a lot more maturity on this album, having moved beyond their MC5/Sonics dichotomy to include some of the other pop elements of the ‘60s, including the psychedelic scene. The band’s initial love for soul elements seems to have pulled them towards a sense of Hendrix’s more pop moments, and there’s an undercurrent of the Animals and the Kinks that gives things a more melodic flavor. Still, it’s the driving rhythms and power chords of songs like “Two Years Ago” and “The New Sound (in the Black Noise Religion)”, and really, if you were to trace the MC5’s career development, you’d see Tokyo Sex Destruction following the same trajectory. The Detroit legends’ proto-punk sound is still the blueprint, and even when TSD slips more angular effects in, as on “Rainy-Day Light”, you’re never too far away from waiting for the transition to “Kick Out the Jams”. Essentially, if you think the Von Bondies are more “authentically garage” than the Strokes, you’ll a lot to admire in Tokyo Sex Destruction.

On the other hand, being so sincere about the music and putting the message on the backburner was one of the contributing factors to the MC5 imploding, and it’s hard to say whether Tokyo Sex Destruction is heading in the same route. While “Modern Education” brings back some of Le Red Soul Communique‘s fervor, it’s pretty lonely among all these love songs. What’s more, once you strip the proselytizing away, you’re forced to really notice the weaknesses in RJ Sinclair’s vocals. His soupy, low-end drawl really does fit the retro-rock sound, but its sludge only reinforces how uneasily some of the English fits in his mouth. Sure, when you’ve got an accomplished set of musicians kicking out guitar licks and pounding drums, vocals come second, and musically Tokyo Sex Destruction really sells it. But eventually you notice the singing, no matter how well guitarist RR Sinclair can imitate Fred “Sonic” Smith.

Ultimately, Black Noise is the New Sound winds up being a great garage rock record because Tokyo Sex Destruction really means it. This is the real deal, and the group’s sincerity is palpable; there’s little irony or hipsterism to be found here. But, well, we’ve had a lot of garage rock as of late, and without the added element of the adopted political stance, it’s hard to say that Tokyo Sex Destruction distinguishes itself enough for this disc to fare any better than the last.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/tokyosexdestruction-black/