Midnight Evils: Straight ‘Til Morning

Midnight Evils
Straight 'Til Morning

If you hold it up to the sun, this bottle, it looks kinda like the your momma’s womb, don’t it? Shit. What is it, three? Four in the morning? Still tastes pretty good though. Nothin’ like a party, right, Mr. Sunrise? The lady’s gone and all I got is this other fella named Old Grand-Dad to keep me on the lists.

Got a coupla things to say though. First, if I hear another goddamn pansy-wah-wah White Stripes tune come drippling out my radio I’m gonna get me and the boys and go down and do some real damage at the next gig. Two kids look like a goddamn Target commercial. And what the hell is this “dedicated to the death of the sweetheart” crap? Smurfs philosophy? Thing that pisses me off the most about them pachydermous riff-snigglers is that they do a retread of some good shit — Dinosaur Jr. and Jon Spencer and John Lee Hooker and Foghat — but their tunes are like finding a bottle of Nyquil in your glove department. Pretty groovy buzz but next thing you know you’re trying to push your car out of the mud out on Route 160. Naw kid, if you want a good dose of some seriously raw earthworm-eating dung-soil, you check out the new Midnight Evils album Straight ‘Til Morning. Just like the title says, they’ll eat the Stripes for breakfast. And just like the Stripes, the Midnight Evils ain’t doing anything new. If you like AC/DC, Motörhead, Aerosmith, Nazareth, the ‘Mats, Ten Years After, or trucker speed, well you’re gonna drink this up like a second case of porch Schlitz. And as for the “blues” or whatever, well most of the songs touch on such timeless themes as drinking alone, getting laid, not getting laid, looking at chicks, driving around all night, dialing up a booty call, being broke. “Gone to the Dogs”, “Ain’t Got Time For Love”, “Got Me By the Balls”, “Loaded and Lonely”, you get the picture. The Evils are based in Minneapolis now, but they started out in so-uncool-it’s-cool St. Cloud, where the very air tastes like a long drum solo. That’s all the bio you’re getting from me, pal. Someday they’ll have a website and you can look up the rest.

Oh yeah, this new album’s on Estrus Records. If that means anything to you, you’ll know the recording has all the purity of a stinking garage with oil rags stashed between the clattering WD-40 cans. Straight ‘Til Morning is live-in-studio and liquored up, with whoopin’ and hollerin’ always in the background. Jonny Evans, the singer, sounds like a berserk Beam-slaked Steve Tyler getting cattle-prodded into perdition, and Mr. Guitar Stevie Cooper gets so reckless with his instrument that I bet he needs to swing by Pawn America for a new axe before every gig. All the songs are fast and maniacal, sometimes approaching hardcore speed, and you’re constantly ducking the spit coming out Evans lips, the near-electrocution you get as Camel ash and Grain Belt Premium splash off Cooper’s pickups.

The album begins some bedroom-mirror guitar-soloing. Catcallers shout out “play some Skynyrd!” and “you suck!” You don’t know whether to love it or hate it, but then it all kicks in with an ancient Doors-“L.A. Woman” rhythm signature, except faster, and with a horny maniac by the name of Jonny screaming, — well I’m not sure what he’s screaming but it’s something about “drinkin’ all alone” and “my baby she’s a bad machine”. This is some grungy ashtray-licking screwface brilliance. The sort of stinging-lightray noise anthem that yanks your head up while you’re praying to the porcelain goddess.

And that’s what you get for the rest of the album. Screeching anthems, one after the other, with wah-wah guitar solos and Jonny Evans twisting and collapsing around the mike, getting hoarser than Westerberg and more belligerent too. The lyrics, well the ones you can make out, are pretty basic ’60s garage sentiments about getting pissed at the little lady (“the sweetheart” is what Jack White might call her) or boozing yourself into oblivion. As Lester Bangs told us all before he self-destructed, there ain’t no point in making rock ‘n’ roll if you’re a utopian android. Sure, the words here aren’t the sorta thing for Eminem debate-class envelope-pushing, but they ain’t gonna turn Chan Marshall into a fan neither. This is a band that’s proud to be talkin’ bout things that nobody cares, wearing out things that nobody wears.

Let’s examine “Got Me By the Balls”, a girl-watching tune where the overpowering lust of Señor Male Gaze turns into a scrotum-yanking pain that even a stoned-drunk Jonny Evans won’t deny. Sexual attraction turns into visceral (well, testicular) suffering, and we listeners go pie-eyed in sympathy. “That bitch has got me / Man, she’s got me / By the balls.” This shit does happen, you know. If we had to filter all our great rock’n’roll tunes through some politically correct milky-sweet machine, we’d all be stuck with a buncha annoying android crap like the White Stripes. Thank the demons for Midnight Evils, then, who shove all the censors away and let ‘er rip. “Got Me By the Balls” is one of the best songs of 2003, precisely because its honesty and brutalism aren’t smoothed over by a 21st century veneer of color-coordinated irony or phoniness.

Every track here is a stunner, and yeah it helps that they all sound the same. Just like the Ramones. Your ears will get twisted around by “Twin City Lights”, where (and I’m just guessing at the lyrics here) a hot young thing stomps her “foot on my brain” for a couple minutes before some unholy screaming closes the tune. Or the crazy semi-anthemic “Gone to the Dogs”, about a proud, berserk, dissipated wreck. And pause for two minutes for the insane headlong hoot ‘n’ holler noise-fest called “Another Line”, which isn’t about writing a poem I’ll tell you that.

As for the title track, this shit will bake your pie real fast. It’s got the Nugent riffs and grimy chord changes that you’ve been lusting after for years, and a nice wah-wah solo percolating underneath Jonny’s inscrutable vocals. You’ll pump your fist anyway, and until they publish their lyric sheet I’ll never know whether “straight ’til morning” means an all-night party, or, y’know, that other thing.

There are a couple tunes that originally appeared on their 2001 self-titled debut, though they’re rerecorded here with a fresh Estrus anarchy. “R D-400” is more or less a hardcore tune, violent and speedy, with a hook that sounds like “track the fuckers down” and “red light! red light!” (again, I’m just guessing), but with a pounding vehemence that upends all them formal hardcore norms. On the other hand “Loaded and Lonely” is just like the title says, except that it sounds like a bunch of beer-swigging kids in a mall parking lot, not some wanky kid sitting around soused in the dark. The best part is when Jonny spits “suck this!” before Stevie kicks in with his guitar solo. Can’t remember if he did that in the original version.

Straight ‘Til Morning is a stunning album, the sort of thing that sounds like history in the making at the same time it recycles the deranged riffs which shook the pants off outstate Minnesota back in the ’70s and ’80s. Just as the ‘Mats revealed their secret identity by covering “Black Diamond”, the Midnight Evils sound like they’re always getting ready to unleash hyperspeed variations of “Wango Tango” or “Sweet Emotion” . They’ve figured out a remarkably pure and bullshit-free method of rocking out without sucking up to genre or hype. Straight ‘Til Morning is a blurry hybrid of blue balls and dry heaves. You know what to do.