BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Listening to an ordained classic after time has passed and a fresh perspective reached can often stab the original appeal in the heart. That’s especially true when the work in question has glaring flaws. Fortunately, the Gun Club’s Fire of Love, making a welcome return to the racks after lingering out of print for far too long, avoids that perilous position by holding up quite nicely – its punk-soaked blues and roots rock & roll sound as iconoclastic now as it did in 1981.
Newcomers to the L.A. band’s debut may easily be put off by leader Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s musical limitations, namely his shaky slide guitar style and extremely loose grip on the key in which he should be singing. That’s not even counting the usual questions arising from a white guy from a privileged background attempting the blues. But Pierce, buoyed by guitarist Ward Dotson, bassist Rob Ritter (né Graves) and drummer Terry Graham, turns his weakness into strength, utterly ignoring the fact that he can barely play in the accepted manner and simply barreling ahead. With only crude tools at his disposal, Pierce is forced to get by on imagination and conviction, pouring his stained soul into the furious “Ghost On the Highway” and “She’s Like Heroin to Me” and the smouldering “Fire Spirit” and “Sex Beat.” The ugly lust of “Jack on Fire” and the frantic deathtripping of “Black Train” could bubble up from the depths of any income percenter, while the band’s take on Robert Johnson’s “Preaching the Blues” reflects real passion for the spirit of the blues, even as it essentially ignores the stylistic parameters.
The blues is a form given to intensely personal interpretation, from Son House and Charley Patton to Chris Whitley and Stevie Ray Vaughan. The punk-informed approach the Gun Club employs on Fire of Love maintains its power and distinction over three decades on.
DOWNLOAD: “She’s Like Heroin to Me,” “Sex Beat,” “Fire Spirit”