Classic L.A. punk album back on vinyl for the first time in 30 years.
Byron Coley proclaims this “the best rock record ever recorded” in his liner notes to this latest re-release of the Flesh Eaters’ A Minute to Pray a Second to Die. It’s a ballsy claim, but this is a ballsy album that has certainly earned a place within such ongoing arguments. A more immediate question might be, wherever it resides in the cosmos of “greatest ever this or thats,” do we really need another re-mastered re-release of this album?
The primary impetus for this re-release from Superior Viaduct is to make this record available to the steadily rising vinyl market and to the younger demographic embracing the retro medium, who may not have been around the last time the record was widely available as a big, black, shiny disc. That’s sound enough logic. And for this potentially new audience, who will be paying what used to be new-cd prices for this new vinyl release, let me provide a bit of background.
Chris Desjardins was first introduced to the broader American music audience in his guise as a hyper-intense writer for Slash magazine in Penelope Spheeris’ L.A. punk documentary The Rise and Fall of Western Civilization. At that very time, he was also becoming more broadly known as Chris D., the hyper-intense leader of a loose conglomerate of musicians gigging under the name the Flesh Eaters. The version of the band that recorded A Minute to Pray A Second to Die was made up of an assortment of Chris D.’s friends from among some of the best regarded L.A. bands of the time: John Doe and DJ Bonebrake of X, Dave Alvin and Bill Bateman of the Blasters, and Steve Berlin of the Rhythm Pigs (and later Los Lobos). Despite numerous titles on the band discography, this is the sole release featuring this lineup, dubbed by most fans as the “classic” version of the band.
Chris D. has often been credited as an influential early adopter of mixing trash culture and the morbid into the rock and roll stew, a characteristic in full flower on this release, from the human hand corpse candle of the cover to songs like “Digging My Grave” and “See You in the Boneyard”. Chris D. takes a demonic glee in spinning modern murder ballads, amplified by his unique vocalizations, spitting, snarling, heaving and hurling lyrics like bile from the depths of a perpetually upset stomach. More interesting is his refusal to settle into any single genre. Amidst an L.A. punk scene steadily marching towards raw hardcore, Chris D. openly wore his myriad influences on his sleeves, mixing elements of country twang, no-wave skronk, rockabilly, and R&B into the cacophony of his band’s sounds. Certainly, younger music fans just discovering the work of Nick Cave or the Cramps will find much to love here.
Perhaps the most significant question for this release is whether the re-mastering has improved the sound, and to my ears there is a noticeable difference, particularly when it comes to differentiating the instruments. This is a crisper mix, to the benefit, particularly, of the horns and percussion. There are, though, no alternate takes or additional cuts included here that might lure those who already own the album to consider a repurchase. Perhaps this is another nod to the primary demographic of new discoverers.
Returning to my first question, then: Yes, this is a worthwhile re-release, but recommended mostly for those who haven’t previously encountered this fine album. To answer Coley’s claim? I’ll leave that to listeners old and new. But if the time has indeed come for a critical re-examination of Chris D.’s work (and why not now?), how’s about bringing the excellent work he did with his follow-up band the Divine Horsemen back into print? Hell, I’ll match Coley’s ballsy claim with my own: They were even better than the Flesh Eaters.