As one component of the legendary MC5, guitarist Wayne Kramer helped create the soundtrack for a revolution that never came — but not for lack of trying. With its proto-metal-cum-free-jazz-scree rock’n’roll, the Five gave voice to the dope, guns and fucking in the streets discourse that exploded from Detroit, homebase of the radical White Panther organization for which they served as de facto house band. When the MC5 sank into a morass of drug abuse and lethargy after adviser John Sinclair was sent to prison on drug possession charges (a predicament that befell the guitarist a decade or so later), Kramer went into semi-retirement.
The counter-counterculture agitator re-emerged around 1980 to join Johnny Thunders in Gang War, a dead-end partnership documented only on a ten-years-after album of live tracks and studio scraps. Collaboration with writer/ex-Deviant Mick Farren proved far more successful. Following a mid-’80s live album as the resurrected Deviants, the pair created “an R&B musical,” Who Shot You Dutch?, which flourished in live performance in New York for a good while; musically, the songs documented on the 12-inch hold up today.
With Farren and New York scene vet John Collins (guitar/vocals) billed and pictured on the cover, Death Tongue is a literal continuation of that project. “Who Shot You Dutch?” appears on the ten-track CD, along with a ludicrous put-on version of “MacArthur Park” and originals written by various permutations of the trio. Cheap production and dime-store drumming keep Death Tongue in the margins, but the down-in-the-mouth rockers (“Spend the Rent”), resistible come-ons (“Take Your Clothes Off”), angry missives (“Negative Girls”), poignant reflection (“The Scars Never Show”) and the cheery MC5-like riptide of “Fun in the Final Days” do limber Kramer up for his next major campaign. (Farren and Collins, meanwhile, continued on as Tijuana Bible.)
It took another punk revolution — the third? fourth? — to coax the guitarist back into full- throttle amp-damage with The Hard Stuff, which careens from free-jazz-backed spoken word to bug-eyed metal in a manner every bit as fierce and feral as Kramer’s golden age. His mastery of controlled feedback and mutated Chuck Berry-via-Sonny Sharrock riffs colors songs like “Edge of the Switchblade” and “Sharkskin Suit,” while members of Los Angeles’ Clawhammer, providing backing on several cuts, act as catalysts of chaos, accentuating the desperate tone of “Hope for Sale” and “Crack in the Universe.” Ironically, it’s the still-revolutionary-after-all-these-years lyrics by Farren — especially the coolly horrific depictions of societal malignancy in “Pillar of Fire” and “Bad Seed” — that really resurrect the MC5’s firepower, but Kramer himself proves lyrically incisive on the spoken “Incident on Stock Island,” a slice of trailer park noir worthy of Charles Bukowski (whom the guitarist eulogizes with an untitled, album-ending monologue).
Dangerous Madness stokes the flames of sedition with just as much zeal, but some of Kramer’s targets — like the “People Who Died”-styled litany he trots out on the title track — are perilously close to being sitting ducks. It’s difficult to find fault with his playing, however: between the proto-punk harmonics he lashes around the sentimental “Wild America” and the furiously avant squeals that pierce “The Rats of Illusion,” he asserts his claim to the dissonance throne with utterly irrefutable power. Likewise, sullen spoken pieces like “A Dead Man’s Vest” glisten with a coat of freshly spilled blood that would do Jim Thompson proud. He may not be quite as far ahead of his time now as he was two decades ago, but Wayne Kramer is still more dangerous than the vast majority of today’s cable-ready punks.
LLMF (Live Like a Mother Fucker) was recorded onstage at three spring 1998 club gigs in LA. Backed by the ryhthm section of Ric Parnell (drums) and Doug Lunn (bass), Kramer dives headlong back into his catalogue for songs from The Hard Stuff, Death Tongue and elsewhere, going all the way back to “Kick Out the Jams,” which gets a reverent presentation that wants for a vocalist forceful and incendiary enough to mobilize the rabble.