Young poets on the East Coast were originally attracted to punk by its simplicity, directness and malleability. Most prominently, Patti Smith and Richard Hell found that crudely executed rock’n’roll provided the perfect backdrop for their verbal barrages. Though less celebrated, California’s Chris Desjardins made equally ambitious records with a constantly changing set of Flesh Eaters that virtually amounted to a who’s who of Los Angeles’ new wave notables. Singing in a style akin to Hell’s delirious hysterics, Chris D. turns morbid, sensational subjects like murder, vampirism and necrophilia into diverting entertainment through relentlessly intense lyrics. And though their demented tone will drive off most listeners, his albums bear hearing.
Like most visionary types, Mr. D.’s report card was often branded “doesn’t work well with groups,” which makes it tough for him to maintain a consistent lineup (Plugz guitarist Tito Larriva and then-guitarist Stan Ridgway headed the list of early cohorts). To capture at least a glimpse of said vision, Desjardins finally borrowed an existing band — LA’s flower-punk Flyboys — to record the first Flesh Eaters EP. ‘Twas a wise choice: the trebly, hyperkinetic playing matches him lunge for lunge on four breathless numbers, including the well-beyond-Costello conflagration “Radio Dies Screaming.”
Cramming fourteen tracks into 25 minutes, No Questions Asked uses the simplest punk structures to illustrate such overbearing tales as “Cry Baby Killer” (the name comes from an early Jack Nicholson film), “Suicide Saddle” and “Dynamite Hemorrhage.” A formative effort.
By comparison, A Minute to Pray is like seeing Technicolor after a grimy home movie. Partial credit goes to a stellar band that includes the Blasters’ Dave Alvin and X’s John Doe and D.J. Bonebrake, but primarily it’s due to Chris D.’s increased flamboyance. He roars instead of snarling, and his tunes are lively and varied horror-movie stuff. Highlights: “Digging My Grave,” “See You in the Boneyard” and “Divine Horseman.” For fans of carnival fun houses.
Forever Came Today reverts to a spot about midway between the first two LPs, but it’s still riveting. The rudimentary quality of the band matters little when Chris tears into epics of sweaty desperation like “The Wedding Dice” and “Drag My Name in the Mud.” A Hard Road to Follow features a revamped lineup and is the closest Chris D. has come to a conventional attack. With the group offering its own warped approximation of hard rock, he chews through a fetid batch of tunes that includes “Life’s a Dirty Rat” and the Sam and Dave classic, “I Take What I Want.”
Although Desjardins abandoned the Flesh Eaters moniker for his more introspective late-’80s work, the band’s rabid followers were left with a variety of compilations. The first SST collection contains relevant tracks from all the albums and adds a few rarities, including the previously unissued “Hard Road to Follow” and “Lake of Burning Fire” and an alternate version of “Impossible Crime.”
While Prehistoric Fits unearths no totally buried treasures, it does dust off a few more early tracks (all previously issued) and makes a nice — if not totally essential — companion piece. Lovingly compiled and packaged with appropriate trashiness, the career-spanning live LP is a welcome document of the thuggish, proto-metal stomp the band (depending on who it included) was so adept at serving up in concert.
Following the Divine Horsemen and the one-off Stone by Stone project, Chris D. reformed the Flesh Eaters in late 1990. In keeping with its title, the sprawling double-LP Dragstrip Riot emphasizes D.’s woozy, pulp-fiction persona-hopping rather than his more fundamentalist santeria-punk ravings. The all-new lineup (especially masterful guitarist Wayne James) proves potent enough to keep pace without clinging to their leader’s tornado-swept coattails, whether the context is quietly malicious delta blues (“The Youngest Profession”), Alice Cooper-via-Jim Thompson power-metal (“Sugarhead and Panther Breath”) or stripped-down docudrama (the ten-minute title track), not to mention a handful of territory-defining covers (from the Groovies’ “Slow Death” — one of the two items deleted from the CD version — to Mott the Hoople’s “The Moon Upstairs”). Length alone makes Dragstrip Riot tough to handle in one sitting, but it’s hard to imagine taking it off in the middle.