The Star Spangles: Bazooka!!!

Stephen Haag

The Star Spangles


Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2003-08-19
UK Release Date: 2003-07-07

Time once again for Hotly-Tipped Garage Band of the Week Round-up: This time around we've got New York City's (natch) the Star Spangles, who besides having a name more befitting a preteen girl dance troupe, also have the Salvation Army chic and requisite big guitars. It's a recipe for clichéd disaster, right? Well, it's true that the Star Spangles don't do anything that hasn't been done since the days of The Stooges and MC5, but I'll be damned if these guys don't have genuine heart. The past year or so has produced enough contenders/pretenders to the garage rock revival throne who released soulless records, subscribing to some theory that ironic t-shirts, a whiff of buzz from the press, and a few guitar chords mean instant fame and respect (see the D4, the Vines, et al.). Those albums had their moments, to be sure, but good luck finding a beating heart in the mix.

Bazooka!!!, the Star Spangles debut, won't give you a big hug, playfully punch you on the chin, and tell you to cheer up, but it does hearken back to a less cynical garage rock era. Album opener "I Live for Speed" could be a 21st century "Highway Star" if it weren't most likely about methamphetamines. The rhythm section of bassist Nick Price and drummer Joey Valentine put the proverbial pedal to the metal while lead singer Ian Wilson slurs his words either because he thinks he's Paul Westerberg or he can't keep up 'cause the song's rocketing off with or without him. Good stuff, and it sounds raw as hell; the band worked with Ramones producer Daniel Rey, so that pretty much answers any questions as to how the album hits the ears.

Unpolished cracks and seams appear on nearly every track. "Which of the Two of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down", besides being one of rock's better questions this year, sounds about 30 years old and summons up the ghost of Johnny Thunders, the band's most obvious influence. (This point is driven home on a cover of Thunders' and Wayne Kramer's "Crime of the Century", off an old Gang War bootleg.)

Perhaps it's the simplicity of the songs that I interpret as a lack of cynicism, but the sunny Replacements-esque (there's Westerberg again; obvious influence Number Two) "Angela" and the anguished "I Don't Wanna Be Crazy Anymore" despite their opposite upbeat and manic-depressive themes, respectively, bear out my theory. Lead guitarist Tommy Volume -- can you believe that stage name didn't get snatched up some time in 1969? -- brings a shaggy-dog likeability to the songs, and tosses out enough fuzz and jangle to fulfill acceptable garage rock quotas; there's not too much to the songs, but they're not just going through the motions. And Volume's solos ain't half-bad either.

Of course, there's only so much territory a band can cover when they're not charting any new territory of their own, and the band does their best to fight off a feeling of sameness that starts creeping in mid-way through Bazooka!!!. "Stay away from Me"'s pounding chorus and the Nuggets-jangle of "I'll Get Her Back" (formerly the Hoodoo Gurus' "I Want You Back" from their 1983 debut Stoneage Romeos) do what they can to breathe a little life into songs about hating girls and loving girls. The band does offer one genuine girl-based gem, "If We Can't Be Lovers", where Wilson's couplet-ending snarl "We can't be friends" competes with Price's elastic bass line and some infectious handclapping for primacy. The tune almost excuses the misguided ballad "In Love Again", about which the less said, the better.

By the time the album closes with "The Party" (Chorus? "At the p-a-r-t-y!" Duh.), a throwaway anthem Andrew WK only wishes he could write, there's no mistaking that there's no faking fun. Enough garage rock is released on a weekly basis that it's easy to confuse the pretenders with the real deal, but unless The Star Spangles are parodying freewheeling late '70s, early '80s rock with poker faces extraordinaire, these guys are here to play no-frills rock 'n' roll music. As their patron saint, Johnny Thunders, once lamented, "You can't put your arms around a memory" -- true, but you can honor it with a fine debut album.





PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.


Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".


Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.


The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.


NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.


South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.


Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.


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 .


Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.


Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.


Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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