This Cleveland quartet won’t get anywhere on its clothes sense. The goofy garb displayed on record covers (drummer Steve-O’s wardrobe is particularly egregious) constantly undercuts the seriousness of purpose in their music, but maybe that’s the idea. Regardless, they’re one of the strongest rock bands around, with an ace double-guitar attack that can satisfy the most fundamental riff-lust but never descends to sodden cliché. Singer/guitarist John Petkovic has always been a sharp and acerbic songwriter, and lately his lyrics have taken on a literary cast that suits them very well.
After a couple of singles on the band’s own label, Strungout on Jargon displays the pronounced influence of Cleveland gods Pere Ubu, particularly on “Coca Cola & Licorice,” where Petkovic’s clarinet squeals recall the soprano sax and recorder yelps on various Ubu LPs. Too much of the record falls into a generic alternative slot but, as debuts go, Strungout is definitely promising.
Although the group sounds as if it’s in a holding pattern, Laughing in the Face of a Dead Man is quite an entertaining circle. The cover of “Werewolves of London” is hysterical in several senses of the word, and the tape-and-instrumental “American Horoscope and the Bad Prescription” shows more Dub Housing-era Ubu influence.
The group laid off for two years before recording Where the Women Wear the Glory and delivered a real stunner. Aside from Petkovic’s choked-sounding-because-he-can’t-do-it-any-other-way vocals (DOS’s only potentially off-putting feature), the band divests itself of any outré tendencies and just rocks out with fire, anger and intelligence. The opening “Harlequin Tragedy” is Petkovic’s best song, wrapping a perfect hook around a dour, on-target metaphor for modern life and summing it up with “We’re living for nothing/and dying for less.” Every cut is outstanding; in one last bow to tradition, the album includes a fairly lavish (strings and everything!) cover of Peter Laughner’s “Sylvia Plath.”
Come All Ye Faithless is considerably denser — even darker and more difficult than Women — but equally rewarding. Not as rollicking as the previous record, it presents a terrific set of songs with which to crawl into a dark corner.
Most of the members of Death of Samantha subsequently formed Cobra Verde.