• Neats
  • The monkey's head in the corner of the room. (Ace of Hearts) 1982 
  • Neats (Ace of Hearts) 1983 
  • Crash at Crush (Coyote / TwinTone) 1987 
  • Blues End Blue (Coyote / TwinTone) 1989 

Boston’s Neats started out playing unselfconscious nouveau folk-rock. Sidestepping nostalgia, the quartet’s simple, low-key style would sound perfect in the discothèque scene of some ’60s Sunset Strip teen-scene movie, but there is also something clearly modern in the straightforward guitar/bass/drums blend. Eric Martin’s dramatic voice gives the seven tunes on the 1982 Monkey’s Head mini-album their strength. Although the material is serviceable, none of it is striking; a really memorable number would have made this a great debut.

Neats sports an extraordinary white and black pop/op-art cover and nine new tunes, but little evidence of development other than the addition of organ (which makes them resemble a droning California paisley neo-psychedelic band). The album has good, dense sound and solidly mesmerizing, if rushed, playing, but lacks the exemplary songs (or even findable melodies) to give it shape or form.

With the lineup intact but for a new bassist, the Neats that returned to vinyl four years later were a much different proposition. Led by the song “Big Loud Sound” and a raunchy remake of “Monkey’s Head,” the pounding big-beat swamp-rock comes as a shock from this once modestly amplified group. Raspy guitar distortion (intentional and otherwise — shitty production adds to the fuzziness) dominates, as Martin gallantly vies for attention over Phil Caruso’s thick six-string roar. While bluesy passages suggest a cross between Creedence and old Gun Club, other cuts take an aboveground rock’n’roll approach. (Throughout, Terry Hanley recalls the Cramps with mongoloid tom-tom drumming.) Crash at Crush doesn’t quite work, but it’s a promising enough experiment.

Blues End Blue (originally announced as Dig Deeper) refines the Neats’ gonzo approach with bracing power and reasonably clear sound. Shifting between measured R&B and charging rock’n’roll (nothing too swampy this time), the Neats take standard bar-band conventions and crank them up to eleven, steering clear of California-band metalisms or mainstream rock success by keeping things raw-sounding and checking any potential bombast at the studio door. The songs aren’t all strong enough to handle such rough treatment, and the relentless blare gets wearing — the piano-led power ballad, “Time Is a Lie,” arrives to provide contrast a track or two late — but, in small doses, Blues End Blue is a blast.

[Ira Robbins]