Punk rock doesn’t usually need or encourage auteurs, but there’s no other word to describe New Yorker Ned Hayden, whose skeletal songs, raw Iggy-derived vocals and scrabbly guitar were the only constant element in the Action Swingers’ burnin’ garage.
Joined by guitarist/singer Julia Cafritz (on her way out of Pussy Galore), bassist Pete Shore (of Unsane) and drummer Bob Bert (ex-Sonic Youth/Bewitched/Pussy Galore), Hayden brings the surly attitude and a deliciously raw caveman stomp — but too few real songs — to the distorted studio compression of Action Swingers. The conceptual cleverness (and titularly accuracy) of “Song” and “Instrumental” can’t be overlooked, but swiping bits from Donovan and the Doors for “Funky Manc” is about as memorable as the debut gets. Quit While You’re Ahead is an arduous compilation of pre-album slash’n’screamers. Half of the ten tracks are from early singles — including the calamitous 1990 gutter-classic debut “Kicked in the Head” b/w “Bum My Trip,” and “Fear of a Fucked Up Planet” b/w “Blow Job” — while the rest are noisy scrapheap findings, including two (“In the Hole” and “Losing My Cool”) with drumming by J Mascis.
The Swingers then ceased to exist for more than a year, but reformed (minus Cafritz and Shore, plus guitarist Bruce Bennett of the A-Bones and bassist Howie Pyro of D Generation) for a ’92 UK tour and the More Fast Numbers EP, a five-songer that includes the legendary “Courtney Love.” Bert and Bennett then split, leaving Hayden to make the Action Swingers’ chef d’oeuvre with three no-name sidemen. The pressure-cooking Decimation Blvd. (a Sweet joke), tidily co-produced by Hayden and Nitebob Czaykowski, bumrushes hardcore with a postdated Dolls/Stooges rock sensibility, sounding for all the world like the hellhound spawn of the Ramones, MC5 and Shadows of Knight. Hayden declares his disgust and self-loathing in such jovial dizbusters as “I Don’t Wanna Be This Way,” “Glad to Be Gone,” “Fooled Again” and “You Better Keep Your Big Mouth Shut,” filling out the spectacular 14-song blur (a near-perfect 21 minutes in all!) with compulsory declarations of ennui (“Searching for Kicks,” “I Can’t Get No Action,” “How Do You Work This Thing”) that contribute mightily to the moving-violation fun.
In November 1993, while on tour in the UK, Hayden spent some time in a London studio called Toe Rag with bassist Barry Stillwell (who played in a band with Jesse Hector, of the proto-punk Hammersmith Gorillas), drummer Tim Cedar and overmatched engineer/mixer Liam Watson “recording” (in mono) old and new originals (one of them accurately titled “Noise”), Black Flag’s “Fix Me” and Subway Sect’s “Nobody’s Scared” (in two parts). Released five years later, the results — a dozen cuts bludgeoned in 23 interminable minutes — sound like shit on speed, with more feedback, distortion and haphazard playing than a guitar superstore on a Saturday afternoon. Kind of marvelous in a horrible way, but too intense for small adults.
Recorded in appropriately raucous lo-fi and covered in a colorful Peter Bagge cartoon, Enough Already! documents the Action Swingers’ final show, which took place in New York in 1998. Leading a rhythm section of drummer Dave Lindsay and erstwhile Vacant Lot bassist Brett Wilder, Hayden plays a dozen items from his catalogue (“Glad to Be Gone,” “Fooled Again,” “I Don’t Wanna Be This Way,” “Kicked in the Head,” etc.) with enough virulent enthusiasm and skill to make this more than just the last night of a punk rock band. Roughing up Ramones-like efficiency into brawling Heartbreakers brush may not sound like a particular great feat, but there’s something ineffably cool about Hayden’s effort here.