Jesus Loves My Heroin II - Various Artists (Hurtin’ Records)
Here’s the two-part hypothesis: (1.) No schtick in rock and roll works as well as premature death and; (2.) the Japanese have a particularly deep interest in musicians who have checked out early – especially those terminally doomed through their own vices.
The latter probably has a lot to do with the strict Japanese drug laws and the populace's deeply rooted respect for authority. Remember the Macca bust? Did you hear the one about the Australian band that wouldn't tour there because the singer liked his pot so much and was worried he wouldn't find a connection? I digress.
The laws of science say that any hypothesis should be disprovable. While you’re trying, I’m spinning this album.
"Jesus Loves My Heroin II" is a Japanese tribute to Nikki Sudden and Kevin Junior Now, I have familiarity with some of the works of the late Mr Sudden; I’m less up-to-speed with the output of the late Mr Junior.
A prolific writer and musician, UK-born Sudden dropped off the twig at 49 due to a heart attack, after a career playing solo and in bands such as Swell Maps (with his brother Epic Soundtracks) and Jacobites. Collaborations with Mick Taylor, Jeff Tweedy, Ian McLagan, Freddy Lynxx and Rowland S Howard among others dotted his c.v., but he was dogged by heroin addiction.
Ohio-born Kevin Junior fronted Chamber Strings and knocked around with Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks. Junior’s premature demise (at 46) may not have been a direct result of his own heroin use - he had a chronic heart condition - but you can bet it didn’t help.
Drugs to one side, an admiration of Johnny Thunders was a common thread for both artists.
The music on "Jesus Loves My Heroin II" ranges from heartfelt ballads to a metal-ish stomp and a couple of bits of techno-rock (one by a band whose name is written in Japanese and therefore will remain a mystery forever.)
Kevin Junior's cover of "Some Hearts"- a wonderful song Thunders demoed in his final days buy never officially released - opens the album. The Broken Hearts Tokyo contribute "You Don't (Break My Heart)", a scrappy amped-up rocker that's the closest thing here to garage punk.
Naruzy Suicide Band's song (insert translation into English here) rocks along like a country shuffle propelled by creepy organ and scuzzy guitar. The Fourth Down Gambler sing in Japanese and sound like a glam metal band straight out of a Sunset Strip club in the late '80s. Double kick drums, anyone?
The Golden Rat (aka Hiroshi The Golden Arm and Mr Ratboy) contribute a skeletal and very affecting cover of Radio Birdman's "Love Kills" and it's worth the price of admission on its own, although any connection to Nikki Sudden or Kevin Junior would seem purely imaginary. Who cares when it's as good as this?
Hiroshi The Golden Arm and Mr Ratboy (as Ace Killers Union) also render "Eyes Wide Shut", an intriguingly bastardised mix of electronic beats, sampled choir (a la Faith No More), a garbled vocals and simmering guitars.
Gaku Toriii & Loaded throw in a touching, sparse and (odd to English language adjusted ears) Japanese-accented tribute to Johnny Thunders. ("We never forget Mister Johnny Thunders; You the coolest rock and roller in the world".) There's a re-working of JT's "MIA" here by a band whose name is (again) in Japanese script that's good, if a touch heavy-handed.
"No More Songs" is a ballad from Nikki Sudden and Kevin Junior that's Sudden singing in his vulnerable, quavering voice accompanied by himself and Junior on acoustic guitars. It's a sound that's as much Sudden's trademark as his Keef collection of scarves and it's a nice note on which to end.
Listening to "Jesus Loves My Heroin II" might be like eating in one of those teppanyaki restaurants where the chef throws the food at you from all angles - it's fun and ultimately filling. Dig deep and chow down if you can find a copy.