Freeing themselves of the diabolical fashions of flamboyant drummer Steve-o, the three serious members of Cleveland’s gritty Death of Samantha — singer/guitarist/journalist John Petkovic, guitarist/singer Doug Gillard and bassist Dave Swanson (shifting to drums) — regrouped in the ’90s as Cobra Verde, adding bassist Don Depew to complete the lineup. Operating under the slogan “Death in small doses,” the quartet made its longplaying debut with Viva la Muerte, a solid center of tough, literate songs reflecting various eras of rock influence (from the rerun Television melodicism of “Was It Good” to the taut boogiemonster riffology of “Gimme Your Heart”) wrapped in a thick curtain of stirring clubland ferocity and decorated with venomous razor nicks of barbed guitar. Although “Montenegro,” the lovely (in parts) “Already Dead” and the verses of the epic “I Thought You Knew (What Pleasure Was)” gently dip into an expansive, romantic undercurrent, the album’s typical tactic — in songs like the Bunnymen-informed “Until the Killing Time” and “Cease to Exist” (not the Charles Manson song) — is to jag along, energized to the point of nervous exhaustion.
The six-song Vintage Crime is more accomplished, controlled and diverse: effective settings for Petkovic’s expressions of cynical disgust at public trendoids (“Media Whore”), performers (“Every God for Himself”), the future (“World Doesn’t End”) and public alienation (“Wish I Was Here”). The lively mix well serves the vivid arrangements and gives increased prominence to Petkovic’s wavery baritone. Jody Reynolds’ late-’50s chestnut “Fire of Love” receives a full dose of vintage atmosphere and a fine vocal performance in clear tribute to the Gun Club’s baleful rendition.
Guitarist Doug Gillard, Prisonshake drummer Scott Pickering and Four Coyotes guitarist Tim Tobias lead Gem, a group whose primary qualification for membership seems to be past involvement in My Dad Is Dead. Hexed is a tuneful rush of smart, catchy and simple rhythm guitar pop-rock — sort of grown-up Weezer without the anxious pretensions. Although contributions from the others aren’t as crafty, main songwriter Gillard comes across with the woolly and weird chant of “Sheep,” the bracing T. Rex borrowings of “Your Heroes Hate You” and the countryfied pun of “Only a Loan.”