[12 July 2005]
The concept behind this 1980 compilation is simple: music impresario Marty Thau, known for his associations with Blondie and the New York Dolls, selected five New York bands to record two songs each (hence the “2 x 5” of the title) for release on his Red Star label. Blondie keyboardist Jimmy Destri produced the tracks, which come from the Fleshtones, Revelons, Bloodless Pharaohs, Comateens, and Student Teachers. In his liner notes for this CD reissue, Thau writes that the bands “created 2 x 5‘s music with an infectious spirit and energy in the tradition of the original Nuggets bands like the Standells, Love, Sonics, 13th Floor Elevators, and Chocolate Watch Band.” Despite this proclamation, with the exception of the Fleshtones’ tracks, the music on 2 x 5 bears little resemblance to ‘60s garage rock. For the most part, this is standard new wave fare by relatively obscure bands.
In the case of the Comateens, it would be perfectly fine if they remained obscure. Their “Overseas” and “Late Night City” are an unappetizing brew of lame music and dumb lyrics, among them, “Late night city / Ain’t nothin’ so pretty”. Nonetheless, they went on to record three albums in the early ‘80s.
The biggest claim to fame for Bloodless Pharaohs was having Brian Setzer in their ranks, but fans of Stray Cats and Setzer’s solo work beware: this band sounds nothing like that. Setzer’s guitar prowess is shamefully underutilized as he competes against swirling synthesizers and the gloomy vocals of Ken Kinnally, who sounds similar to Nick Cave in his Boys Next Door years. In fact, the whole thing sounds a bit like the BND, who were so cheesy that they had to change their name to the Birthday Party once they got some sense and decided to start making decent music.
Unsurprisingly, the ever-reliable Fleshtones turn in a decent garage stomper in the form of “F-F-Fascination”, but the version of the subdued “Shadow-line” included here is not nearly as strong as the one that would appear on their debut album a year later. The best known band on the compilation, the Fleshtones are still rocking today, and have a new album, Beachhead, coming out August 9 on Yep Roc.
An anthology of the Revelons’ recorded work appeared last year on the Sepia Tone label. Their “Red Hot Woman” is a raucous blend of rockabilly snarl and punk fuzz, while “Cindy” is a midtempo rocker with more of a standard new wave sound, although it has a nice pop hook.
The Student Teachers are the pleasant surprise on 2 x 5. Although they only lasted 1978-1980 and their recorded output was meager (a single and an EP), they seem to have perfected their synth-pop sound. “Looks” is a lovelorn teenage ballad, while “What I Can’t Feel” shows a different, poppier side of the band.
While the music on 2 x 5 is a mixed bag, the quality of the reissue is patently dreadful. Apart from Thau’s brief essay, there are no explanatory notes (which would be helpful, given the relative obscurity of the bands), and the sound is alternately muddy and tinny. Of course, 2 x 5 will be of some interest to fans of NYC punk and new wave, but those who don’t count themselves in that group might well wonder why this compilation is so sought-after.