Wendy Case’s voice sounds like Chrissie Hynde turned into the Hulk, retaining enough subtlety to prevent Paybacks records from being overheated shoutfests while making a case for the most powerful bellow in rock — male or female. That bellow is the centerpiece of the group’s lean, ragged and bruisingly tuneful sound on Knock Hard by Case and fellow Detroit scene veterans Mike Latulippe (drums, ex-Hentchmen), John Szymanski (bass, ex-Hentchmen) and Marco Delicato (guitar, ex-Rocket 455). (Two founding members of the Paybacks — drummer Pat Pantano of the Dirtbombs and bassist Marc Watt — left the band before the first album.) Case’s strongwoman roar is backed by a solid, crunchy guitar punch that delivers melody with a sledgehammer. The album-opening “Just You Wait” is the epitome of all things Payback: a barbed wire apologia that repents but never pleads, and a beast stitched together from pieces of the Stooges, Beatles and AC/DC, with the heart of a ’60s girl group backup singer. The rest of the disc is nearly as good, maintaining a fervid intensity through loud but tender love songs (“If I Fell”) and pyretic bitch sessions (“Don’t Lay It on Me”). Knock Hard is the equal of any 21st-century Detroit rock yet.
Recorded after Danny Methric replaced Delicato, the aptly named Harder and Harder sacrifices a bit of the debut’s tunefulness for a greater rock quotient, but suffers only slightly in comparison. Stompers like “When I’m Gone” and “Scotch Love” are leavened a bit by the Cheap Trick/Badfinger tinges on the poppier “Today and Everyday” and “Bright Side,” as well as the ace album-ending cover of T. Rex’s “Celebrate Summer.”