Vancouver, British Columbia was the site of one of Canada’s most volatile early punk explosions, but only a couple of bands managed to spread their fame much beyond the city limits. The Payolas were one of those, and temporarily managed to retain some of the scene’s fire after signing to an American label.
The gatefold 7-inch EP — four songs, two of them redone for the first album — records an early four-piece lineup, produced by guitarist Bob Rock to sound like a high-voltage cross between the New York Dolls, the Clash and the Ramones.
An impressive debut, In a Place Like This is political (but not preachy), offering sophisticated punk with reggae seasoning, which makes it again reminiscent of the Clash without being derivative. Musical variety, lyrical quality and youthful power add to the album’s strong impact.
No Stranger to Danger, expertly produced by Mick Ronson (who had not previously distinguished himself in that role), shows enormous progress — from an able but inexperienced adolescent band to a skilled and creative heir to Mott the Hoople. (If that connection doesn’t register, consider that Ronson was a late member of Mott and subsequently worked extensively with Ian Hunter.) The judicious addition of contemporary keyboards, vastly improved singing and a more-melody/less-thrash outlook make every track a treat. In a nice touch, it’s dedicated to the late Alex Harvey.
Sticking with Ronno, Hammer on a Drum takes a large step away from the youth and energy of the band’s beginnings. Singer Paul Hyde selectively affects a near-perfect vocal imitation of Ian Hunter (who also appears on the record, furthering the Mott relationship). It’s slick and engaging, but sorely lacking in believable personality. It may not be fair to expect any group to remain true to its (perceived) principles, but getting this fogeyish so fast is neither commendable nor flattering.
Here’s the World for Ya, produced by big-time mainstreamer David Foster, is even worse. Typical of this boring and bland synth-rock record, the band is careful to thank members of Rush and Loverboy.
Ditching the band name, Rock (guitar, keyboards and bass) and Hyde (vocals, guitar), joined by ex-Payola Chris Taylor (drums, keyboards) and several other part-timers, returned with an excellent duo album. Spanning a number of styles — all of which show imagination, pop and rock smarts and enthusiasm — the album is adult and intelligent. One of those rare multi-faceted records that reveals itself differently each time, Under the Volcano more than makes up for the long dry spell.
Rock has since gone on to become a very successful producer, working with the Cult, Metallica and other hard-rock bands.