To start, let’s get the whole Jack White thing out of the way.
In the guitar-playing community, one of the most popular pieces of advice regarding studying the greats is to go back and uncover who inspired them in order to fully appreciate both their roots and influences. With this idea in mind, one can imagine that in the early 21th century, interest in North Carolina blues-roots duo Flat Duo Jets was probably at an all-time high, after Jack White cited them as one of the major influences on the White Stripes. White stated in the documentary
It Might Get Loud that the band “opened up a whole new inspiration for me about the guitar”. But alas the blues-psychobilly outfit (comprised of guitarist/ singer Dexter Romweber and drummer Chris “Crow” Smith) had long-since disbanded, faded into the underground garage-rock ether like so many others before them.
Over their surprisingly-long career (1983-1999 as well as sporadic reunions since) Flat Duo Jets became cult heroes, thanks to their energetic live shows and a slew of albums on which they rarely strayed from their incredibly stripped-down “vox-guitar-drums” sound. Their latest release
Wild Wild Love is a box set that would make even the most casual fanboy drool, containing a reissue of their self-titled 1990 album, an EP and a collection of (surprisingly listenable) outtakes.
This collection of songs, apparently tracked on a simple two-track system, follows a simple formula, picking-and-mixing tropes from a number of genres ranging from bluesman wailing to the energy of late 1970s punk to 1950s rock and roll crooning and constantly shift in tempo from sloppily breakneck to slow and rooted in steady swung grooves. Romweber’s croaky and at times-unintelligible warbling sounds like a cross between Elvis Presley’s drawl and Iggy Pop’s
Raw Power-era yelping while his guitar-playing is a lesson in less being consistently more, being heavily influenced by everyone from Dick Dale to Junior Kimbrough to Django Reinhardt. Smith’s drumming on the other hand is dexterous, down-to-earth and gloriously unflashy and the pair’s musical rapport is clearly one years-in-the-making and at times it’s hard to tell who’s trying to keep up with who.
With none of them passing the four-minute mark, the tracks fly by in a flurry. The strut of “My Life My Love” sounds like the missing link between John Lee Hooker and Stevie Ray Vaughan while the exhilarating instrumental “Tequila”-ripoff “Chaquita” was made to soundtrack a gunfight in a Robert Rodriguez El Mariachi-era movie. There are also quieter moments — outtake “Apple Blossom” sees Romweber crooning like a pro while also showcasing his considerable piano skills) — but they don’t last long before the buzzsaw guitars are once again unleashed.
Though the music of Flat Duo Jets is teeming with influences, at its core it’s essentially psychobilly made by guys who didn’t give a damn about fitting in with such an aesthetic, thus creating a sound that’s so theoretically simple yet undeniably exciting that it has easily inspired many more than just Jack White to pick up a guitar.
Wild Wild Love is a collection of songs by a band doing what they do best even if what they do requires neither precision, pretension nor a fourth chord and in an era when the White Stripes’ riffs are chanted at sports events and Black Keys songs are heard on Armani advertisements, this is a breath of fresh air from a mouth long since shut. Not for everyone but never intended to be.