Despite a cheerfully self-deprecating stance, London’s Barracudas offer quite an enjoyable sentimental journey through assorted American traditions on Drop Out. Some tunes plunge headlong into dense, ringing folk-rock — see “Violent Times” or “I Saw My Death in a Dream Last Night” for an update of the Byrds on a gloomy day. Surf tunes like “Summer Fun” and “His Last Summer” strive a little too hard for laughs to overcome fundamental flimsiness, but are fun and can’t be faulted on attitude. (The UK and US versions of the LP differ by a track.)
After abandoning a second album (four tracks from which were salvaged and released as House of Kicks) and losing drummer Nick Turner to the nascent Lords of the New Church, singer Jeremy Gluck and guitarist Robin Wills assembled a new Barracudas and recorded the wonderful Mean Time, produced by Pete Gage (ex-Vinegar Joe), who also adds evocative keyboards to the LP. Reclaiming more than half of the unreleased album’s songs, the Barracudas here sound like a younger Flamin Groovies. (In fact, this five-piece lineup — easily the Barracudas’ best — features ex-Groovie guitarist Chris Wilson.) An effortless and catchy ’60sish blend of punky pop, vintage rock’n’roll, mock Merseybeat, snarly mild psychedelia and Byrdsy 12-string folk-rock.
The 1983 live LP, packaged and recorded so amateurishly as to resemble a bootleg, has a few original songs from the two preceding albums but mostly consists of covers like “Seven and Seven Is,” “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and “Fortunate Son.” The performances rock out enthusiastically, but the miserable sound quality is an insurmountable obstacle to enjoyment.
After making a third album, Endeavour to Persevere, the Barracudas disbanded at the end of ’84. While assorted European labels issued compilations (I Wish It Could Be 1965 Again), outtake collections (The Big Gap) and archival concert albums (Live in Madrid, a terrible 1984 show with better sound than the French live LP), Gluck made a musically unrelated solo LP in collaboration with Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks (both ex-Swell Maps), Rowland S. Howard (Birthday Party, etc.) and Gun Club leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce (on guitar). Various permutations of that gang play Gluck/Sudden compositions in simple recordings that have a nice, casual feel. Stylistic variety — from acoustic guitars (“Gone Free,” the nicest tune here) to near-noise (the last portion of the epic “All My Secrets”) — keeps Buffalo Bill interesting, but Gluck’s artless voice doesn’t really suit the material. Intriguing but unsatisfying. (The same crew later reassembled to cut an EP, Burning Skulls Rise.)
For his part, Wills made a pair of albums with a group called the Fortunate Sons (originally a trio, but later a quartet with Chris Wilson), whose bassist wound up in the Barracudas when Wills and Gluck decided to restart the band in early ’89. The first order of business was to polish up the tapes of the lost second album from 1982. House of Kicks‘ belated release as Garbage Dump isn’t exactly the Rosetta Stone of ’80s music, but it is a potent dose of solid garage rock, albeit without the same tuneful charm as Mean Time (with which it shares eight songs); in hindsight, that underscores the roles Chris Wilson and Pete Gage played on that album. Overall, the biggest failings are the vocals, which are hoarsely unattractive and rather weak in the harmony department, and the unimaginative, overly nostalgic production style. The World’s a Burn is a six-track compilation of singles.