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.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Award-winning folk artist Karine Polwart showcases humankind's innate link to the natural world in her spellbinding new music video.

One of the breakthrough folk artists of our time, Karine Polwart's work is often related to the innate connection that humanity has to the natural world. Her latest album, A Pocket of Wind Resistance, is largely reliant on these themes, having come about after Polwart observed the nature of a pink-footed geese migration and how it could be related to humankind's intrinsic dependency on one another.

Keep reading... Show less
Film

Victory Is Never Assured in ‘Darkest Hour’

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour (2017) (Photo by Jack English - © 2017 FOCUS FEATURES LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. / IMDB)

Joe Wright's sharp and only occasionally sentimental snapshot of Churchill in extremis as the Nazi juggernaut looms serves as a handy political strategy companion piece to the more abstracted combat narrative of Dunkirk.

By the time a true legend has been shellacked into history, almost the only way for art to restore some sense of its drama is to return to the moment and treat it as though the outcome were not a foregone conclusion. That's in large part how Christopher Nolan's steely modernist summer combat epic Dunkirk managed to sustain tension; that, and the unfortunate yet dependable historical illiteracy of much of the moviegoing public.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image