Music

35 Years of No Regrets

Tim Hardin

It's too bad they only release one album.


SVT

No Regrets

Label: Rykodisc
US Release Date: 2005-04-26
UK Release Date: 2005-05-02
Amazon
iTunes

“I have had people who have listened to the material since, and they said they can’t understand why we didn’t get signed. But at the time that we put out that material, people were still expecting long jams. It was before the so-called New Wave stuff took on and became more pop and what not, the shorter song format. I just write it off to timing, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world…”

-- Jack Casady interview in Relix magazine, February 1986

It has been 35 years since San Francisco rock band SVT released their only full length album, No Regrets. Much has shifted in music, particularly rock music, since that time, and this album may have something to tell us, in retrospect, about directions in rock music, generally. More importantly, however, it may be time for a reconsideration of the band’s output, in particular the songs of their lead singer/guitarist, Brian Marnell.

To be sure, by the time of this album’s release this was fully Marnell’s band: his voice, his guitar, his songwriting. Jack Casady may have had the name recognition, after establishing not one but two historic San Francisco bands, Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna. But Casady was looking for a new direction in the late 70’s, declaring that he was bored with the long jam style of Hot Tuna. Together, Marnell and Casady originally worked with a keyboardist, Nick Buck, but eventually stripped down to the three-piece outfit on the album along with drummer Paul Zahl. Casady and Zahl locked down an impressive rhythm section, and Casady’s fame gave the band an immediate notoriety.

This notoriety was not always positive. Any fans expecting a “Jack Casady Band” in the mold of his previous material would leave the nightclub shocked. This was a new music: purposeful, powerful, embracing the new sound and energy of the times yet with echoes of the “hard rock” of the era, as well.

This became an issue for the band in the end; How to classify this music? Some called it punk, which Marnell dismissed outright. “New Wave” was closer to the truth, but, especially since the parting of Buck’s keyboard, the band had a heaviness missing from much of the New Wave of the period; the music had less of New Wave’s sense of irony, and part of the power of the band came from a sincerity in the music, particularly from Marnell and his voice.

The voice is the central instrument on No Regrets, and Marnell may be the most underrated singer of this period of San Francisco music. Live, each of these songs had an intensity of voice, a howl at times (underscored by the way Marnell breaks into “oh oh” at key moments) and, moreover, a control that drove the music. Even on songs where the lyrics seem a bit “light-weight”, such as “Love Blind” or “What I Don’t Like”, for example, the delivery is so honest and impassioned that these songs absolutely work as classic pop delivered with amps turned up to 11.

Lyrically, tortured love songs predominate, but beneath the surface I sense something else at work; these lonesome boy poems begin to sketch out a mythology of urban desire that reflect a deeper sense of alienation and loss. Cityscapes reflected in tunes like “Money Street” or “North Beach” become urban mythmaking similar to a young John Fogarty looking out his window in El Cerrito, California, and creating his bayou legends nearly15 years prior. Listening to these songs now, it feels like Marnell desperately wants to live in this world of his own making, a world more pure, more real. This is the underlying tension of the music, reflecting a tension within the listener him or herself. Perhaps this tension defines all genuine rock 'n' roll.

The music is, as we used to say in those days, “tight”. The Casady-Zahl rhythm section drives everything, a subtle combination of Casady’s stripped down bass lines (often a hammer of two or three notes) and Zahl’s accented power drumming. Add to this Marnell’s ideosyncratic way of playing lead guitar. “Waiting for You” provides a great example of how his leads were patterns weaved into patterns, creating great intensity and a singular guitar “voice”. The album presents songs the band had been performing in nightclubs for some time, and though a couple of the songs, notably “You Don’t Rock Me” and “Too Late” are less effective here than the rock anthems they were when performed live. Rather, it is the "smaller" songs, if you will -- “Waiting for You", “Heart of Stone”, “Secret”, “Love Blind”, “North Beach”, and the title track -- that benefit most from these recordings.

Of course, today the album is colored by subsequent events, specifically Marnell’s overdose death in1983. The later unrecorded SVT songs were gaining in strength and vision, as well as guitar prowess. Sadly, this album remains the last public document of this band. For anyone interested in San Francisco music, this album is essential; likewise, anyone interested in “New Wave” and its variations should own this.

More than that, however, No Regrets is a testimony to three musicians, one in particular, who had a vision and tried to live it completely.

Tim K Hardin lives in SE Portland, Oregon, where he is a writer, musician, and former teacher at Portland Public Schools. He considers the Ramones to be the greatest rock band of all time.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.