Hard as it may be for those who weren’t there to understand or acknowledge this, the designations punk and new wave were at one time synonymous, and nowhere more so than in New York, where an unruly but colorful garden of power pop, garage rock, art-school oddity and glam sprouted in small clubs, unified into a genuine movement by the notion that record companies, rather than be the sole arbiters of who gets to make what kind of music, were irrelevant, that pop music was a continuum in which each short-lived commercial vogue does not diminish the currency or value of what was no longer in the charts. In that calculus, Blondie and the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Dead Boys, Pere Ubu and Television were all of a cultural piece, regardless of their widely divergent stylistic approaches. The scene’s forbears were equally diverse: Alice Cooper, Iggy, Sparks, Bowie, Spector, Standells, Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, etc.
If to the winner goes the spoils, it’s understandable that the class of ’77 bands who endured long enough to put out records and find critical fame or mainstream success (or, in several remarkable instances, both) came to define the scene and remain history’s touchstones for it. Yet New York in the mid-’70s had plenty more extraordinary bands that fell on the wrong side of fate. Many of them went undocumented in an era that was still getting the hang of do-it-yourself record-making, which is why curiosity seekers will be hard-pressed to find much (if any) audible evidence of the Planets, the Miamis, Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps, the Brats, the Marbles, etc.
Credit, then, the excavators who have assembled and released the oeuvres of the Fast and other contemporaneous bands, including the Mumps, a clever pop ensemble fronted by America’s first reality-TV meta-star, the late Lance Loud. Fatal Charm (subtitled 1975–1980 A Brief History of a Brief History) displays the band’s specialty — campy pop songs rooted in theater and mild-mannered farce, a mélange of Bowie, Bonzos, Noel Coward and Sparks. (Loud, who went on to a successful career in journalism, offered his hindsight in the liner notes: “Our high vaunting musical ambitions were matched with low ranking musical expertise, we had a lead singer [Loud] who could sweat better than he could stay in key, and besides the fact that three of us were gay in a hetero-heavy field which only acknowledged homosexuality as being a passing marketing ploy.”) Pianist Kristian Hoffman (who started the band with Loud in Southern California and then relocated it to New York) was the band’s musical director, writing most of the songs and the only start-to-finish Mump besides Loud. (The band’s unstable lineup also included future Patti Smith Group drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and guitarist Toby Duprey, who later played with Bowie.)
The Mumps had neither an inclination to rock nor a supply of timeless tunes (“Anyone but You” is a strong exception to the latter), so their best songs (“Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That,” “Before the Accident,” “Forget Me Not,” “Photogenia”) employ exaggerated mock portent to make their charming points. A little aggro (as in the memorable “Stupid” and the punky “Gimme Gimme”) served as well. What’s primarily discernible from this valuable retrospective is that the musical world in which the Mumps existed was a lot broader and inclusive than generally thought.