If the Gories were Mick Collins’ musical adolescence, chock full of exuberantly sloppy instrumentation and snotty lo-fi production, then the finely tuned Dirtbombs are his coming-of-age band. Formed by Collins in 1992 in Detroit as a side project to the Gories, the Dirtbombs weathered a variety of personnel changes before entering the studio in 1995. Unlike the Gories, whose infectious sound was basic to the point of being primordial, the Dirtbombs’ style has, over the course of three albums, grown crisp, clean and well produced. But their guiding passion for soulful rock ‘n’ roll has never wavered.
Unlike the White Stripes and the Von Bondies, this Detroit combo has remained on the periphery of popular music and has grown creatively without the pressure of stardom or major-label interference. Refusing to fit a specific mold, the Dirtbombs fly in the face of tradition, fielding the unusual combination of two bassists, two drummers and one guitarist.
The first recorded line-up is simply listed as Mick on guitar and vocals, Tom Potter and Joe on bass, and Chandy and Ewolf pounding the skins. Horndog Fest is equally divided between rousing rockers (“I Can’t Stop Thinking About It” and “She Blinded Me With Playtex”) and grinding noise experiments (“Vixens in Space” and the lengthy “My Heart Burns With Deeps of Lurve”). It’s an uneven listening experience, but the band’s strengths shine through the slow points. Check out “Burnt Cinders,” a raw, fuzzed-out groove that sounds like ’80s-era punk rock, and the hypnotic “Pheremone Smile,” with its driving organ riff and eerie guitar work.
Four years later, the Dirtbombs returned with an improved line-up (drummers Pat Pantano and Ben Blackwell, famed bass-playing Detroit garage producer Jim Diamond, Collins and Potter) and Ultraglide in Black. Except for one original, the album consists of covers of classic ’70s soul and funk songs. Curtis Mayfield’s ghetto ballad “Kung Fu,” Marvin Gaye’s bouncy “Got to Give It Up,” even Barry White’s lugubrious “Qualified to Satisfy You” are dusted off and injected with a heavy dose of Detroit-style rock ‘n’ roll. Clean production, female backing vocals on several tracks (most notably the mournful stroller “I’ll Wait”) and Collins’ vibrant voice give Ultraglide a rich, finely textured feel. Wisely, the band addresses the material straight on, without the irony-laden nostalgia so often associated with modern incarnations of ’70s music, leaving an honest, emotional and timely album.
Dangerous Magical Noise brings the Dirtbombs back to their own terrain with a renewed exuberance. Combining the best elements of the first two albums, the music is tight and heavy, the vocals soulful and searching. “Sun Is Shining” is a proud ballad about love lost, while “Thunder in the Sky” features driving drums and distorted guitar. “Motor City Baby” is a Gary Glitter-style stomper, “21st Century Fox” a tribute to glam and power pop complete with flying saucer sound effects and “Stuck in Thee Garage” a fuzzed-out ode to the sound of the suburbs.