Time for a retrospective already?

Oct 26, 2005 at 12:00 am

Odds ’n’ sods anthologies are, invariably, mixed bags — the iPod Nation’s fractured attention span and shuffle aesthetic notwithstanding. Not even the granddaddy of the genre — the Who’s Odds and Sods, duh — is totally listenable. This two-CD collection from the Dirtbombs, however, sidesteps the odds ’n’ sods jinx. Here’s how:

1.) It primarily comprises 45 and EP tracks the band’s issued since 1996 (plus some unreleased material), and, as ’bombs main man Mick Collins notes in the liners, “Singles are straight to the point ... there’s no room for filler. I think of them as being like candy bars, or trading cards. They let you know everything you need to know at a glance.”

2.) It’s sequenced not chronologically, but according to some (undisclosed) internal logic, the happy result being a hugely listenable D-bombs dance party and not some tedious how-we-evolved take on things.

3.) It brings together under one cover the group’s myriad and oftentimes surprising musical guises, which to date have included punk Dirtbombs (circa 1998’s Horndog Fest), soul Dirtbombs (2001’s Ultraglide In Black) and pop Dirtbombs (2003’s Dangerous Magical Noise), not to mention random detours into classic rock, no wave, dub and more. A fat 24-page booklet crammed with photos, record sleeves and hilarious track-by-track commentary penned by the band members rounds the package out (specific date and source info for each song would have been nice, although much of that can be gleaned from the discography at thedirtbombs.net).

If You Don’t Already Have A Look also conveys the group’s sheer primal power. Collins, long one of the scene’s more charismatic performers, channels James Brown so ferociously in blooze rave-up “Pray For Pills” that you’ll be bolting out to the nearest pharmacy just to fill him a prescription as a thank-you. And the skronky post-punk of “Broke In Detroit (Again)” is the best Motor City anthem since, well, “Kick Out The Jams.” Those and 27 other originals make up Disc 1, while over on the second CD are 23 covers, several terrifyingly unhinged — notably Soft Cell (a white noise “Insecure ... me?”), Stevie Wonder (an Oi! take on “Maybe Your Baby”), the Stones (“No Expectations,” interpolating “Sympathy for the Devil” and, uh, “Hey Jude”) and Detroit’s own Romantics (“Mystified,” which in 1985 was the worst tune on the awful Rhythm Romance, but here gets a sleek P.I.L.-meets-King Tubby-style dub treatment).

Incidentally, the album title is a subtle slap at Little Steven, who in preparation for his “Underground Garage Festival” last year at New York City’s Randall’s Island sent out a memo suggesting that groups be as visually presentable as possible for the filmed event. (The memo read, in part, “If your band does not have a ‘look’ this might be a good time to consider it. The film ... will be shown on television in many countries and of course end up on DVD.”) Anybody’s who’s ever witnessed the Dirtbombs live, of course, knows that any sort of makeover would be ludicrous. Collins & Co. have got the looks and the hooks and more onstage magnetism than 99 percent of the groups currently operating in the whole goddamn Western Hemisphere.

Fred Mills writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].