Ridiculous but fun, these Ontario glam punks curse a lot on their first album, which offers Sham 69 shoutalong choruses in like “Bomb the Boats and Feed the Fish” and the title track. Singer Mickey DeSadist, in spots, affects an outdated Johnny Rotten voice, and the subject matter is similarly familiar: “Rich and Bored,” “Elvis Is Dead,” “The Punks Are Alright” (rewriting the Who’s “Kids Are Alright”). The playing is strong, with dynamics and arrangements that often resemble early Clash. It’s a weird mixture: pop-punk/straight punk. Not very inventive, but a highly enjoyable throwback.
The second album leads off with a buzz-saw version of Gary Glitter’s “Hello Hello” and then blasts a perfect Merseybeat melody into the Ramonized present. Elsewhere, they cover “Eve of Destruction,” go “Surfin’ on Heroin” and vent their frustration about the balance of rock trade in “England Keep Yer Stars.” Throughout, DeSadist fights off an overactive echo chamber as the other three Rebels pound out efficient wall-of-guitar punk.
A new gang of Rebels (DeSadist and guitarist Mike Mirabella are still in charge) cropped up in 1988 with an American album containing all-new recordings of previously released songs. Surfin’ on Heroin retreads “Bomb the Boats,” “Elvis Is Dead,” “I’m in Love with the System” and others, adding a couple of topical new compositions (like “A.I.D.S.”) for good measure. The vibrant, loud punk-rock sound recalls the Dead Boys or Generation X; low-brow/high-energy songwriting that crosses the Monkees with the Ramones gives the Rebels a solid basis for their polite blowtorch assault. If a total lack of originality can be excused, Surfin’ on Heroin is a big fun date. But who played the organ?
DeSadist (now spelled DeSadest) is the only original Rebel on (Untitled). The material is as derivative and uneven as ever, but a capable new guitarist (Jeffrey Dee) and crisp, roaring sound give the LP a powerful charge. Over the course of this zany set, the quartet delves into Bowiesque glam (“Wild Eyed Darlin'”), gets a good fix on Johnny Thunders (“The Girl Can’t Come”), trashes Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy” and parodies Johnny Cash in the offensively vulgar “I Gotta Axe.” Capping off the silliness is “Science Fiction Double Feature,” an inane namecheck of B-movie stars recycled from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The (Untitled) CD also contains the Surfin’ on Heroin LP.
Bassist Chris Houston — who went under the name Pogo A-Go Go on In Love With the System — put his own Dixieland version of “Surfing on Heroin” on Hate Filled Man, a casual solo outing (with a wacky astroturf cover!) that followed his departure from the Rebels. But that song is all that connects the two career phases. Houston exercises his cultural misanthropy in a mixture of rudimentary studio tracks and even simpler solo live performances that have nothing in common with glam punk except a fear of convention. From the woozy blend of trumpet, piano, simple drums and bass on “Ecstasy of Ignorance” to the tremolo electric guitar ravings of “Baby Jesus Looks Like Elvis” to the funky rock of “Negative Groove,” Houston demonstrates a quick wit and enough musical skill to make this strange album more than a little entertaining.