On their first EP, LA’s Droogs — who started playing together as pre-teens in 1966 and began issuing singles in the mid-’70s — pound out bluesy garage rock which variously resembles the early Stones (thanks mostly to the harmonica wailing in “99 Steps”), the Yardbirds and the Seeds; a faithful cover of “Born to Be Wild” is both obligatory and superfluous. The first album, well-produced by Earle Mankey, sets a more ambitious course, relying on period-evocative psychedelic originals and mixing in different instrumental flavors and textures, while never straying far from recognizable clichés. The quartet deftly avoids genre slavishness but, a few notable exceptions (the solid title track, for instance) aside, still falls a bit short of being exciting on their own recorded merits.
With Mankey again manning the board, Kingdom Day drops the nostalgia shtick and mixes electric (kudos to Roger Clay) and acoustic guitars to good effect while keeping the focus on Ric Albin’s growly vocals. Dynamic arrangements and enthusiastic, inspired playing make up for material that isn’t all inherently memorable. The band’s shorter songs work best, roughing up R&B and boogie stylings into modern rock, but the one non-original — “Call off Your Dogs,” written by Jeffrey Lee Pierce and Peter Case — is the record’s high point. This hot date proves the Droogs need no longer long to sound like anyone else.
The German Anthology is a well-annotated diary of the first decade in the history of America’s first proto-punk combo: a full five years before such genre “forefathers” as the Chesterfield Kings and the Unclaimed, the Droogs were spreading the gospel according to Question Mark with a series of spottily distributed 7-inch manna wafers. All of that early issue appears here, for the most part in lo-fi that attests to the band’s purity and poverty. Proof that a modern lifeline — however thin — has always been connected to the body of ’60s raunch.
Initially set for release a couple of years earlier on the ill-fated PVC label, surfacing first in Europe as Mad Dog Dreams and then expanded by two tracks, Want Something essentially crystallizes what the Droogs have been moving towards for the past few years. The album layers sinewy, decidedly Western slabs of open-highway hard rock (“Long Dark Night,” John Hiatt’s “Zero House”) with moodier, folk-tinged atmospherics (“Mad Dog Dreams” and “Devil Left to Pay,” the latter written by LA rock scribe/rocker Robert Lloyd). That the multitude of guests — including ex-Code Blue honcho Dean Chamberlain, Dream Syndicaters Steve Wynn (who sings lead on his own composition, “Maria”), guitarist Karl Precoda and Paul Cutler (who also produced the LP) — never obscures the Droogs’ character is a tribute to the group’s forceful personality. (The CD adds three.)
After a lengthy silence on the national scene, the Droogs — singer Ric Albin, guitarist Roger Clay, bassist Dave Provost and drummer Ty Rio — blasted back into action with Atomic Garage.