The Upshot: Post-punk supergroup gets the two-disc deluxe treatment that reaffirms how great the band’s shiny but aggressive blend of garage rock, gothic pop and glam punk truly was.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
London’s Lords of the New Church never hit the big time a lot of people expected, despite a personnel pedigree to put most bands of its era to shame. That hasn’t stopped the flow of releases, of course – at this point there are more posthumous live and scraps records than there were original releases. (Three during the group’s lifetime – four if you count the semi-mythical 2003 “reunion” album Hang On). The band’s self-titled debut remains the essential text, the fountain from which all its future blessings would flow. This reissue, from a label normally more concerned with such cutting-edge rockers as Robbie Dupree and Stephen Bishop, reaffirms just what a special band the Lords were at their best.
Originally released in 1982, The Lords of the New Church was a mélange of different sounds reflecting both the times and the gifts each Lord brought to the table. Guitarist Brian James, late of the Damned, is a master of Nuggets-informed punk riffs, but with an open mind to the phased six-string sound of the early 80s. Bassist Dave Tregunna (from working class heroes Sham 69 and Lords precursor the Wanderers) and drummer Nicky Turner (the Barracudas) also have solid punk bonafides, but are versatile enough to encompass psychedelia and pop. Singer Stiv Bator (who apparently left the “s” in his surname back in America when he emigrated following the breakup of the Dead Boys) alternates between his usual sneering rasp and an almost pretty croon, drawing on the power pop of his post-Dead Boys solo records as much as his love of Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop. Horns and synthesizers add a gothic rock flavor to the proceedings.
Barring a cover of the Balloon Farm’s “A Question of Temperature” and “Russian Roulette,” penned by blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em Lords Tony James (Generation X) and Terry Chimes (the Clash), the brash, hooky songs flow from the pens of an airtight Bator/James songwriting team. Whether paying tribute to the New York Dolls (“Li’l Boys Play With Dolls”), expressing the point of view of a monster (“Livin’ On Livin’”), indulging in some eye-rolling misogyny (“Eat Your Heart Out”) or easing the pain of nuclear annihilation with a groan-inducing pun (“Apocalyso”), the duo wraps every tune in catchy licks, memorable choruses and a B-movie atmosphere. Facing an uncertain future during the Cold War-stoking early Reagan years, the pair responds with bookends: the album-closing fearmongering of “Holy War” and the opening defiance of “New Church.” The album’s coup de grace, “Open Your Eyes” pumps up the melody for an irresistible anthem that remains the band’s calling card.
The original tracks might be enough, but Blixa Sound’s two-disk edition adds some goodies. Disk one concludes the album with a trio of bonus cuts. “Girls Girls Girls” (not the Mötley Crüe tune) likely came off as silly even then, but “Young Don’t Cry” makes for a tasty slice of punky rock/pop, and the single mix of “Open Your Eyes” is even punchier than the original. Even better, though, is disk two – a smoking live show recorded at My Father’s Place in NYC that marks an official release of a popular bootleg. The setlist reprises the debut, highlighted by a breathless “Holy War,” plus “Girls Girls Girls” and a take on Allen Toussaint’s “Fortune Teller.” Thanks to first album dearth of material, the Lords amusingly use “New Church” as both opener and encore.
With its shiny but aggressive blend of garage rock, gothic pop and glam punk, The Lords of the New Church should, like so much of the music from the eighties, sound dated. But the band’s distinctive personality and strong songwriting distinguish them from their more timebound peers. No two ways about it: The Lords of the New Church still holds up as a classic, timeless rock & roll record.
DOWNLOAD: “Open Your Eyes,” “New Church,” “Holy War (live)”