The first new studio album since 1967 from these garage rock legends has its faults, but it's an overall solid addition to their already classic discography.
Maybe they were tired of hearing thousands of bands, from the Black Lips to the Black Keys, rip off their classic garage rock sound. That has to be one of the reasons why the Sonics have decided to release their first new studio album since 1967’s Introducing the Sonics. Yes, 1967 -- that’s a long time ago.
The good news is that this isn’t some Black Flag or Misfits situation, where maybe one original guy is present amongst a bunch of stand-ins. This Is the Sonics reunites three of the band’s original members: guitarist Larry Parypa, sax player Rob Lind, and vocalist and keyboard player Jerry Roslie, who defined the Sonics’ sound with his trademark howl. Holding down the rhythm section is Kingsmen bassist Freddie Dennis and Dick Dale drummer Dusty Watson.
This Is the Sonics plays out like the other three Sonics records: a gassed-up mixture of originals and rhythm and blues standards. Similarly, the band’s sound hasn’t changed much in the past 48 years. They can still effortlessly meld swinging rock 'n' roll with a raw, punk-like intensity. While Roslie’s vocals are slightly worse for wear, he can still deliver a mean garage rock growl.
The record’s first single, “Bad Betty”, is an original, and it definitely checks all the boxes you’d want in a Sonics song released in 2015. It kicks off with a rough, bluesy riff that’s subtly backed by sax and organ with Roslie’s wail leading the way. What about a quick sax and organ trade-off solo? You got it. “Bad Betty” works so well because it’s fun, and, honestly, it ranks among the best Sonics originals, like “The Witch” and “Strychnine”.
A few others nearly reach the level of “Bad Betty”. The twangy opening riff of “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, a tune first recorded by Ray Charles back in 1966, gives way to an old-school boogie, and the sizzling blues of “Sugaree” is delightfully vintage. The band even tries on the Motown standard “Leaving Here” and shakes it up in a good way with the addition of a punchy harmonica solo.
There are a couple of missteps, however, including the repetitive verse section of “Livin’ In Chaos”, which tires quite quickly. Then there’s “Save The Planet”, which features a refrain of, “We’ve got to save the planet! It’s the only one with beer!”, which is maybe a little too Dad-rock, or even Grandpa-rock, for its own good.
Another minor quibble with the album is the production. It’s important to clarify, though, that the record, which was recorded in mono, does sound good. For any other band, it might even sound ideal, but for the Sonics, it’s simply too clean. What made the Sonics’ early records so good was their unprocessed rawness. The drum sound on their 1966 LP, Boom, is unmatched to this day. It would have been great if the band tried to replicate their old recording methods for This Is the Sonics. Although the finished result on this LP is listenable, it’s definitely the most polished offering in the Sonics’ discography.
Still, This Is the Sonics is a fine and often fun record. There’s a certain gratification that comes from the record’s straightforward simplicity. But maybe more importantly, the Sonics once again prove that the rumors of rock 'n' roll’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
Splash image of the Sonics by Merri Sutton.