Dirty and Dumb - Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 (self released)
A lot of you guys have got me dead wrong. I don’t actually want to write reviews tearing bloody strips from your flesh. I don’t want to kick you in the balls. I don’t want to take your daydreams of fame, glory and love and cruelly crush them. But sometimes a man has got to do what a man has got to do.
I’d like to say that it wasn’t your fault and it was mine. But I’d be lying. It’s all these crap records you keep making. And you know you’re doing it.
You keep including self-written third person press releases announcing your godhood. You present me with expectational cheques your butt can’t make good on. The general idea is, you have to convince someone else to write something nice about you in the third person. If you write about yourself in the third person, you’re asking to be slapped down. So, find someone else to sing your praises. But that’s not going to be me.
I just listened to your record whilst reading your poorly-written press release. I want to kill you. But the truth is, I’m not that hard to please. Thanks to 64GB chips for your phone, I started thinking I could put down a fairly large chunk of my collection into my pocket and play it when idiots tried to talk at me. With a couple of thousand albums on my phone, I haven’t really even begun to touch the level three steps above mediocre.
I like music. I want to like music. I can admire song writing, playing and performance. I can also appreciate a left field approach to a familiar cliché just so long as you can manage to keep your tongue out of your cheek. Just because you were beaten as a child, it doesn’t actually mean you developed a cool defence mechanism and everyone loves you. You’re just not funny and everyone thinks you’re a dick.
And I know. You put a lot of time and effort in to this. Believe me. If I think you’ve put your heart and soul in there, I’ll review you positively. Unless you play Heavy Metal, Speed Metal, Death Metal or common or garden Crap Metal. I’m sorry. I only have one set of fillings to give to my country and you’re not getting them.
The trouble is people keep pushing dross. The problem seems to be that their taste is in their arse. You know what I’m talking about. Look at the state of modern popular music. Look at the President of the United States. Look at the morons who voted for Brexit. Not only is their taste in their arse, they occasionally feel the need to pull their taste out and beat both themselves and others with it. I don’t want to look at anything that come out of your arse. Nor do I wish to see your attempts at going blind.
Have we casually crossed peak culture? Must we now applaud everyone? Must we give merit certificates to all who turn up? I had a simple solution. I don’t write a review until I like something. Seen many reviews from me lately? Volumes spoken. My eye catches the word count. Has it really been five hundred words already? I haven’t even gotten started.
But I am with Robert Brokenmouth on this. Some reviews need a bit of context. Some require leadership. Some require the taking of the moral high ground. I mentioned earlier, I was filling my phone with ancient relics. Amongst the pile, I dragged up my copy of Labretta Suede’s rather marvellous “Not Food Hungry” CD.
I was taken back to the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills. I know you’ve heard they’re re-opening it but that’s one memory you can’t put your arm around. (ED: And the sale is a figment anyway.)
Direct from New Zealand but middle of the bill, the small but perfectly formed Ms Suede took the stage in little more than a plume of feathers and impossibly high heels. But what a voice! How does such a cavernous howl emerge from so diminutive a package? How does her five-foot frame engulf the world with her presence? She distracted me from the obvious fact that she was practically nekkid! She was that damn good.
I probably wrote a review of her album that covered most of this. Long story short. Superior mesh of rockabilly and garage tropes. Too extreme for the purist cuckoo clock dancing crowd. Perfectly placed to rule the burlesque, tattooed hot rod crowd. One small caveat. Whilst they were probably the best at what they did, what Labretta and the Motel Six excelled at was not exactly virgin territory. They were outsiders but lacked the outsider art of the Cramps.
That said, it was nothing the God of biomechanics could not forgive. John Waters would still have welcomed them with open arms to Turkey Point. In a cloud of nostalgia for such a genuinely enjoyable album, I wondered aloud “whatever happened to Labretta Suede and the Motel Six?” I guess that’s why they invented the Internet.
The band’s been in America. She’s been doing Penthouse shoots (probably – given the poor return on a modern musical career - to pay the bills). There’s a new(ish) album. Wait a goddamn minute. Did you say a new album?
I have a friend who works as a “real” music journalist. He argues (as I understand it) that no-one should self-release music. He believed major labels acted as gatekeepers who demanded a certain level of “quality”. I, of course, disagree.
This is an argument that may have had some merit in a time of Danny Fields and an A & R department that loved music. Modern day bean-counters would never let Roky Erickson record an album called "The Evil One" but spelled out in symbols only Roky understood. Furthermore, two hundred million Eagles fans can be (and certainly are) wrong.
The music industry is broken beyond recognition. Hit singles are written by committees divvying up wordcounts and snare beats. Hey, that “Whoa Yeah” makes the song. It’s got to be worth at least seven percent. Records are reviewed off of press releases. Popular taste comes out of seven-second clips. I keep telling you. Your Ballroom days are over.
But that’s not to tell you there is nothing good out there. These days, all the interesting music is in the hard to get places. It’s in your Bandcamps with your CD Babys. It’s in self-pressed discs sold at gigs. You have to hunt it down. And as a reviewer, I feel that if I find a gem, I have to proselytise. So, of course I busted out my credit card and tried to buy the damn thing without even listening to it first. I had faith. Even if there was a 50 percent drop in quality, it would be worth a listen.
The first link went through a Facebook page and, when the questions started looking dodgy, I admit I bailed. Anyone starts asking for a password, I’m out of there. Further investigation took me to CD Baby. It’s on I-tunes as well if you’re that way inclined.
Firstly, this album sees the band expanding its musical horizons. Tips of the hat to the Ramones and Glam add suitable flavour. Whilst previous work lyrically floated around burlesque and noir themes. “Dumb and Dirt”’ broadens the canvas with gender blurring, fourth wall breaking and carnie themes. It may be dirty but it sure isn’t dumb.
The album opens and closes with a scream. The first intelligible words “That’s right people… We’re back!” The album’s final song is a plea of understanding for Priscilla the Monkey Girl and her beloved Alligator man; a tale of Southern Gothic straight out of (David)Lynchville. The fake Southern drawl is made even better by the inclusion of non-appropriate turn of phrase like “Earn a crust”. The sudden drop out of character sounds richly sarcastic.
Along the way we are treated to expected tales of High Heeled Heartbreakers and All Girl Gang Riots. A particular delight is “Gary Glitter” where we discover that Labretta’s man thinks he’s Gary Glitter. Apparently. “He likes punk rock but Glam was Better.” It is unlikely and other performer could have found a way for that to actually be a rhyming couplet without her strange and wandering accent.
The drumming on “Gary Glitter” is astounding but it’s hard to work out which Motel Sixer was involved. Whilst Labretta and guitarist Johnny Moondog appear as constants, the CD mentions alternate United States and New Zealand rhythm sections. Whilst the album was recorded in the United States, the album lists three other drummers without pointing to individual tracks. The drums on “Gary Glitter* are pretty damn good.
The whole album is pretty damn good. You guys should give it a listen. Maybe buy a record that came out this decade some time soon. Whilst I bemoan the decline of civilisation, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are people trying to make this world a better place to live in. God bless you, Labretta Suede. No, Fuck it. Let’s skip the middleman and just elect Labretta as God.