Formed in Los Angeles by sharp-voiced singer/guitarist Peter Case after ending the Nerves, the Plimsouls were one of many bands sucked up by record-label power pop mania in the wake of the Knack’s success. Following a short independent recording career, the Plimsouls signed a big deal and made one fine album that didn’t sell. That was very nearly the end of that.
Heaps of promise are already evident on the cheap-sounding Zero Hour 12-inch EP. The Plimsouls toss out enough cutting harmonies and nifty guitar licks to recall Beatles VI, although their spirit is totally fresh and beyond nostalgia, the aggression modern.
That promise is fulfilled on The Plimsouls, the band’s first major-label LP, which trims only the raggedest edges to showcase vibrant, hummable tunes like “Now.” The Plimsouls’ affection for ’60s soul also gets a tumble via the use of a horn section and a hot cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Mini-Skirt Minnie.” …Plus combines Zero Hour and The Plimsouls in their entirety, adding such single sides as “Dizzy Miss Lizzie” and a live reprise of the album’s “Hush Hush” plus a studio outtake of “Memory.”
The quartet’s relationship with Planet soured soon after the LP stiffed, and the Plimsouls left the label to release an independent 12-inch of the power pop classic, “A Million Miles Away.” In a show of enormous resilience (both commercial and individual), the Plimsouls subsequently joined the Geffen roster and produced Everywhere at Once, re-recording that memorable single alongside a batch of similarly strong new ones, all bubbling with undiminished fire and melody. Lyrics, however, reveal the mounting frustration: “How Long Will It Take?,” “My Life Ain’t Easy,” “Play the Breaks.” The Plimsouls never got a break to play, and bagged it in early 1985. (The CD includes a bonus track.)
The posthumously released One Night in America captures a live set from 1981, mixing original tunes with some fine vintage covers. Recorded during the Plimsouls’ cocky, hard-rocking prime, it’s a fitting epitaph for an underappreciated band.
Fitting epitaphs are nice, but a superlative second coming is a whole lot better. Reunited with two other original Plimsouls — guitarist Eddie Munoz and bassist David Pahoa — Case drafted the peerless Clem Burke to play drums and made Kool Trash (which bears the ambivalent, and equally true, twin slogans “garbage in, garbage out” and “This record could change your life”), a shatteringly great melodic rock record that made the band’s brief re-existence a pungent treat. Although the music, which obviates any further need to imagine the mod-era Who as 30-something Americans in the mid-’90s, is thoroughly modern, Case begins the record by digging through his history to share a lesson evidently hard-learned: “Playing With Jack” is explicitly, and not warmly, about his former cohort. “Since the Nerves broke up all he does is brood…don’t go back to play with Jack…the beats are rough when you play with Jack.” The rest of the album is nearly as strong, if not as pointed. Borrowing the intro to “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” “Not of This World” digs winningly into 1965 London for a delicious garage stomp with a refreshing ska bridge. “Feeling Strange” has a primo Attractions-like sound, although there’s little chance of mistaking Case’s singing for Costello’s. The delicate “Down” is gorgeous, like Paul Westerberg at his most gently reflective; the forceful “Falling Awake” is tense and gripping; “Kool Trash” roars with unfettered joy. The album ends with a live bonus cut, “Too Much Satisfaction.” Perfect.