Unless you check the copyright date, you’ll swear that this upstate New York band with pudding bowl haircuts and Beatle boots existed two decades back. The Chesterfield Kings’ faithful re-creation of ’60s guitar rock and garage punk (the first album’s material is strictly covers, most of it so esoteric that only a fanatic record collector would recognize more than one or two tunes) is so spot-on that it’s impossible to discern from the real thing. In their chosen idiom, the group’s records are as consistent and reliable as early Ramones.
The Kings’ staggeringly true alternation of merseybeat and sneery trash remains uncompromised on stop!; surprisingly, the high proportion of originals scarcely diminishes the lifelike effect. (Two extra songs were added when Mirror remastered stop! for its 1987 reissue.)
The shag haircuts on the cover of Don’t Open Til Doomsday offer fair warning that the quintet (having undergone a lineup adjustment) has loosened the stylistic strings. Leavening the slavish fundamentalism with a little modern sonic character, they hit on something comparable to late-’70s Flamin Groovies. As a concession to the less obscure-minded, the waning proportion of non-originals draws on T-Bone Burnett and Ray Davies and Dee Dee Ramone. The album is enthusiastically played and cleanly recorded but, once a band has painted itself up such a stylistic tree, musical development may mean a straight path down. (Esoterica note: “They were never born/they were thrown out of hell” is inscribed in the run-off groove.)
Night of the Living Eyes temporarily avoids the issue of musical direction by reaching into the vaults, compiling material (all covers, natch) recorded in the four years before the Kings started making LPs: both sides of their first three singles, a rehearsal outtake featuring manager/label chief/cult-figure-in-his-own-right Armand Schaubroeck and a side documenting an early-’83 NYC live set. A fine document of the band’s savage youth.
The Berlin Wall of Sound finds frontman Greg Prevost and bassist Andy Babiuk, joined by two new members, making further moves towards a more contemporary approach. Save for a version of Bo Diddley’s “Pills” and another Dee Dee tune, the songs are all originals. Sporting a raw, Stonesy sound that suits swaggering tunes like “Love, Hate, Revenge” and “(I’m So) Sick and Tired of You” (not to mention the rather questionable “Richard Speck”), Berlin Wall presents the Chesterfield Kings as a fine, non-anachronistic hard-rock band. For weirdness’ sake, there’s also “Coke Bottle Blues,” a distinctly bizarre stab at delta-blues fetishism.
The band apparently liked that track enough to attempt an entire album’s worth of twelve-bar standards: Drunk on Muddy Water, released in a numbered limited edition of one thousand. Though Greg (billed here as Yardbird) Prevost is no Leadbelly, the loose, lo-fi renditions of classics by Muddy, John Lee Hooker, etc. are entertainingly demented.