Kicking up their heels and descending upon the unsuspecting masses the same year as East Bay dookie tossers Green Day, Sacramento’s Groovie Ghoulies have carved out a unique niche in the second coming of punk rock. With the unbounded energy of bassist-singer Kepi and his missus, femme fatale guitarist Roach, the Ghoulies became known through constant touring and blistering performances amongst scads of onstage toys.
Demonstrating an aptitude for the classics, Appetite for Adrenochrome features capable covers of the Stones (“2000 Man”), Herman’s Hermits (“Don’t Go Out”) and The Monkees (“Lookout”). Most of the originals on the album bespeak the infancy of the three-chord pop punk being extruded, but there are hints of the anthemic nature of future compositions.
Five years later, the Ghoulies returned with a more refined and defined sound and approach. Produced by Seattle’s Conrad Uno, Born in the Basement establishes the trio’s dedication to Saturday morning cartoons and Gigantor with catchy enigmas like “The Beast With Five Hands” and the title track (“born in the basement / living on dogfood”). They also trot out an eclectic collection of covers, from the Partridge Family to the 13th Floor Elevators. While not progressing much beyond the three-chord basics, Born in the Basement struggles to continue the Ghoulie evolution musically and lyrically.
The release of World Contact Day in 1996 began the Ghoulies’ relationship with Lookout! Records as well as with Bay Area cartoonist S. Britt, who designed the album covers. World Contact Day shows the band continuing to expand musically with covers of Billy Bragg’s “A New England” and Neil Diamond’s “Hello Again.” Punk gives way to the blues as the group moans (sometimes unsuccessfully) through ballads like “Lonely Heart Blues” and “Singing the Blues,” but “Running With Bigfoot” and “Island of Pogo Pogo” are classic high-velocity rockers.
The Running With Bigfoot EP joins the single drawn from World Contact Day with three new songs, most notably “Valentine,” a love song with help from former Mr. T Experience guitarist Jon Von.
The Ghoulies’ drum chair turned (and not for the last time) on Re-Animation Festival, as Dan Panic replaced Wendy. Produced by Mass Giorgini (Queers, Screeching Weasel), the album is a substantial musical progression as well as the band’s most polished offering. The trio presents a much more cohesive and unified unit through a diverse dozen catchy punk-pop diddys. The nitro-infused “Chupacabra” (“Goatsucker,” sung in Spanish) warns of the dangers of the Mexican goat sucker; “Graceland” runs around a playground of ’50s musical stylings; and “Evading the Greys,” while a great song, strongly recalls “Planet Brian Jones” from the Running With Bigfoot EP.
With more personnel changes afoot (Kepi plays drums as B-Face of the Queers shoulders the band’s bass chores), Fun in the Dark is a more primitive affair, a raucous, high-speed ride through 13 tracks that rarely break the two-and-a-half-minute mark. The horror theme is upheld on songs like “She’s My Vampire Girl” and “Don’t Make Me Kill You Again,” while the covers quota is maintained with the New York Dolls’ “Lonely Planet Boy” and Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me.”
Travels With My Amp (not, despite appearances, a live record) backs off the octane a bit as it veers toward romance in lovestruck numbers like “Hair of Gold (and Skin of Blue)” and “(The Girl Is) an Unsolved Mystery.” According to those songs (and “Daughter of Frankenstein”), monsters do fall in love, questioning their fledgling trysts with all the passion of an upright bi-ped. “Free Bird” (an original) and “Hard Night’s Day” (ditto) provide extremely short, powerful bursts of punk power, while the energetic “Boot Hill Express” opens the disc with an instrumental and “Dancing Late at Night” ends it with a Jonathan Richman cover.
Leaving Lookout!, the Ghoulies signed with a Dutch label and released the Freaks on Parade EP, audibly renewing their dedication with six new blistering songs that erase issues of progression or regression. “Hats off to You (Godzilla)” is a Stranglers-meets-Ramones melody in which the big guy gets punk props for his rebellious relationship with his native country. Having delegated his other duties, Kepi is able to concentrate on singing, and his vibrant voice stands out on songs like “Jet Pack” and “Sleeping Beauty.”
The vitality of Freaks on Parade carries through to Go! Stories as the Ghoulies are reunited with producer Mass Giorgini. Using a stack of new material (plus a remake of World Contact Day‘s “Ghoulies Are Go!” and a cover of Super Furry Animals’ “Chupacabras”), Go! Stories is one of the band’s most solid and mature efforts. Roach’s wall of sound is extremely clean, and the drum tracks are strong and steady (a standard the band has not always maintained). While the lyrics avoid monsters this time, there’s plenty of sex and fun, and Kepi sings it all like holy water in the face of the undead.