A Japanese hybrid of the Ramones and the Stooges. And no, that's not a joke.
If you're like me, when you hear about a Japanese garage band you can't help but think about the Mops, those lovable dopes that graced Nuggets 2 with their earnest if silly "I'm Just a Mops". That song proved that even the most heartfelt declaration of rebelliousness and individuality could be mortally wounded by an imprecise grasp of the language in which you're singing. "But I don't care of them / Cause I'm just a Mops." Isn't that adorable?
For those of you who haven't paid attention to Japanese rock music since the '60s, you might be surprised to learn that at least some people on that faraway island have developed an impressive facsimile of American music, and perhaps the best are the three young men in Guitar Wolf. Featuring Seiji on guitar and vocals, Billy on bass, and Toru on drums, Guitar Wolf formed in the late '80s, seemingly with the intent of combining the speed of the Ramones with the raucousness of Raw Power-era Stooges. Since so many Japanese attempts to imitate American pop culture strike us natives as a little silly, and since so many bands in the states have failed to accomplish the same goal, Guitar Wolf would seem destined to failure. Their habit of singing verses in Japanese and choruses in English doesn't help their cause, especially when they pronounce "rock 'n' roll etiquette" like "lock n loll etikya". However, Seiji, Billy, and Toru have a grasp of very loud, very fast, and very, very dirty rock that verges on the stupendous. These guys have had more time and more access to their source material than the Mops ever did, but so do lots of lesser bands across the world. Raw talent is the only explanation, and this explosive trio has plenty.
Rock 'n' Roll Etiquette, originally released in Japan in February of 2000, has finally received a proper release in America with an extra track and a remastering job for the whole thing. It doesn't single-handedly solve all the problems for American fans (their catalogue is awfully difficult to track down in its entirety, some of it having only been released in Japan, the rest of it scattered among different labels of various size), but it does make one more of their blistering records easily available. In a perfect world, Guitar Wolf would get the distribution it deserves, and its fans -- assuredly a rabid bunch -- would be able to get their sweaty hands on as much of the Wolf as they pleased. That the U.S. version of Rock 'n' Roll Etiquette moves the world one step closer to this Utopia is cause for celebration, indeed.
One question, though: does anyone need the complete Guitar Wolf discography? Those that have yet to be exposed might be surprised to learn that, for as much as descriptions of the band bring out the superlatives, they sound much the same from song to song and album to album. If you can imagine a band that keeps the needles in the red with distorted, feedbacking guitar, howling vocals, and brutal drumming, you can probably envision Guitar Wolf. That's not the same as actually experiencing the group, and that experience should be had by anyone who loves bruising garage rock, but anyone who already has a Guitar Wolf album and who bristles at the monotony of their genre will miss very little they don't already have by skipping out on Rock 'n' Roll Etiquette. For anyone else, however, this is a fierce document of a band that started loud, stayed loud, and that doesn't show signs of quieting down a decade-and-a-half into their career. The Japanese economy may have passed its peak, but Guitar Wolf sounds determined to keep the country's rock obscenely alive for a long time to come.