[6 September 2007]
Yikes. Are the glory days of Detroit’s rock scene really so far behind us that it’s time to start putting out remastered reissues? Along with all the other Detroit bands we used to hear about like the Detroit Cobras and Electric Six, the three guys in the Hentchmen helped to catapult the local scene into garage rock history way back there in the late ‘90s. And here it is: Italy Records has released a reissued and remastered version of fourteen tunes from the Hentchmen that were originally released in 1998 collectively on an EP, a 12”, and two singles. It’s a cool set and it’s true that the beloved Detroit garage rock band turns 15 this year, but it’s probably also true that most people aren’t aware of this fact and even more have probably forgotten. And yes, that’s sad, but why the release? Despite the fact that the Hentchmen are Detroit garage rock heroes in their own right, these fourteen tracks also happen to feature a very young, and then very un-famous, Jack White. His name appears multiple times throughout the album’s packaging to remind us so; playing with a candy-striped icon is no doubt something you plug.
The three Hentchmen—Mike, Tim and John—appeared on the Detroit scene in the early ‘90s, eager to bring back the excitement of rock ‘n’ roll of the past, and putting a ‘60s twist on garage rock that started a trend with other like-minded local musicians who were looking to modernize the sound of some of their earlier musical heroes. The trio’s self-described “hit and run” sound is mainly attributed to their minimalist approach—guitars, drums, and organ—and their mastery of the stripped-down and sped-up is certainly well represented here. There aren’t many instruments to choose from or a wide range in repertoire, but the guys never needed it. Organ-driven melodies, thick harmonies, dueling guitar riffs and a thumping snare: the Hentchmen threw it all in the pot, and the combination always somehow resulted in moments that sound like pure fun more often than just self-indulgent noise. The band is effortlessly hard-hitting on tracks like “Big Screen Lover”, just as they are entertaining with the freaked-out organ on “Gawker Delay”, and downright hip-shaking on “Yesterday’s Trash”.
Despite these obvious album highlights, most people will likely be most interested in checking out Jack White’s performance here—an appearance that primarily comes in the form of him playing bass on 11 of the album’s tracks. White’s influence is really only significantly felt on the lead track, an early Beatles-esque type cover of Richie Barrett’s “Some Other Guy” where he contributes lead vocals and guitar, and on the album’s two versions of the Yardbirds’ “Psycho Daisies” which feature White on guitar. For White Stripes’ fans, the latter will be enough of a reason to pick up the album as we get a real glimpse of White experimenting with the guitar sound that would characterize the White Stripes’ releases to come.
Hentch-Forth.Five is a great opportunity for fans to check out the first baby steps of Jack White, who will inevitably—and hopefully—go on to become one of contemporary music’s major forces. It’s also a reminder of what a great, collaborative community the Detroit rock scene used to be and, unfortunately, the sad state in which it now exists. Even Jack White has fled his beloved hometown for Nashville. Places like the Magic Stick used to be a playground of band-swapping and shows, now it’s a place where Jack White gets in fist fights with former collaborators and fellow Detroit lead singers. So maybe this remastered anniversary release is warranted after all; a lot sure does change in 15 years.