A decade after smearing himself with punk glory as the unskilled guitarist contributing to the nullifying legend that was the Germs — see (MIA), a definitive 30-song career summation, and the twelve bawling minutes of live Germhood on the Masque disc for evidence — and just before his resurgence as the hired hand in Nirvana’s final year, Pat Smear made two solo albums and another pair as half of the Death Folk. While all four records have their moments, Smear — a likable character who can’t really sing and doesn’t bring much to the songwriting table (on the 1988 record, his lyrical role is limited to two co-writing credits, and one of those is just additions to “Golden Boys,” the words of which are by late Germs singer Darby Crash) — is clearly better off as part of something bigger.
Making Pat RuthenSmear with keyboardist Paul Roessler, a drummer and several guests, the lisping singer/versatile guitarist (whose real name is George Ruthenberg) takes an enjoyably weird if indulgent romp through various non-punk pop and rock styles as if he were trying to boil down everything Rodney had played on the ROQ over the prior fifteen years. Showcasing instrumental skill and scenery-chewing vocal stylings, Smear flips the idiosyncratic tracks towards Redd Kross giddiness, acoustic restraint, dance thwack, experimental nonsense and whatever else comes into his studio-bound head. The kind of album only friends could love, Pat RuthenSmear nonetheless has stuff others might also find amusing.
So You Fell in Love With a Musician… employs Death Folk bandmate Gary Jacoby (otherwise of Celebrity Skin) on drums; Pat plays almost everything else. His singing is far more assured and presentable — his explosive yells give the record a bit of Hole’s melodrama and suggest a stylistic affinity with Nirvana. His rock chops are likewise in higher, tighter gear; he detonates exciting guitar bursts all over “Creep Street” and demonstrates cool tone and firm lead control in “Holy Bulsara.” (Those who fail to note the Brian May/Queen touchstones in Smear’s music should note that Freddie Mercury was born Frederick Bulsara.) The album is uneven enough to include “Ever Alone With Thee” (an ineffectually camp faux-gospel, complete with harp solo) and the torchy sap of “Love Your Friends”; in spots, it’s as axe-wanky indulgent as a hair metal record. Still, Smear’s goofy enthusiasm, cool playing and the whole thing’s casual, underproduced quality give it a crummy, ass-backwards sort of charm.
Pat (guitar, vocals, keyboards, bass) and Gary (vocals, guitar, tuba) go the Chad & Jeremy acoustic route on Deathfolk, jointly singing and strumming their amusing admixture of adolescent humor (“Monkey Brains,” “Rad Man”), rude sex (“Yellow 1,” “Typical Girl”) and a stylistically suitable Queen cover, “’39.” The album’s final numbers (the loud punk of “Jack,” a jokey pirate rendition of Jacques Brel’s “Amsterdam” and “Work!,” a bass’n’drums generator with haunted house vocals) ruin the mood, but the rest is good for a tuneful laugh or two. Deathfolk II drops the first album’s conceptual pretense for unabashed power pop, mutant metal and brash rock, occasionally slamming into punk (“Jojo Luv”), anarcho-country (“Azrael”) and electric piano balladry (the comical “Medeley” of rubbish-rock covers). Joining a long line of teen-dreaming Los Angeles bands (echoes of Sparks, the Pop, Redd Kross and the Quick abound), the duo melodically describes “Scary Girl,” “Romeo Bob,” “Baby Hugh” and “LuLu Bell” (a version of which Pat put on his solo album the same year) capping the whole thing off with a rollercoaster rendition of the Go-Go’s’ “Automatic.”