BY MICHAEL TOLAND
When music nerd discussions turn to proto-punk, the electric eels’ brief mid-70s existence often gets overlooked. The quintet didn’t just hail from the same fertile Cleveland scene as fellow travelers Rocket From the Tombs and the Mirrors and future luminaries the Dead Boys, the Styrenes and Pere Ubu – it’s probably responsible for starting it. The eels had everything punk rockers would later celebrate. Abrasive guitar textures? Check. Basic rock rhythms given caffeinated urgency? Check. A member that would go on to be in a more famous band? Check. (Drummer Nick Knox joined the Cramps.) Attitudes that range from nervous to spiteful to flat-out pissed off? Double check. This band was so punk rock it issued its classic 1978 debut single “Agitated” two years after it had broken up.
Die Electric Eels compiles all the material from its original ‘74-’75 incarnation, starting with the jittery “Agitated” and its atomic B-side “Cyclotron” and continuing through another eleven slices of Midwestern clatter and spit. From the drumless blast “Jaguar Ride” and the sneering gutter ballad “Sewercide” to the ascending anthem “Anxiety” and the blues splatter “Cold Meat,” the band does its best to excite, annoy and disturb. “Splittery Splat” lets guitarists John Morton and Brian McMahon duel like a cobra and a mongoose, their coruscating corrosive corruption infecting anyone who gets too close, while “Natural Situation” features vocalist Dave E. McManus’ deadpan meanderings and backburned sleaze. “You Crummy Fags” and “You’re Full of Shit” drop any pretension of art and go straight for mean-spirited fuck-offs. “Spin-Age Blasters,” issued in 1981 but recorded in 1976, is even more discordant and unpleasant, confidently entering Trout Mast Replica territory with a rambling musical monologue that boasts competing riffs and a McManus vocal that sounds like it come unhinged any second. The shackles come off on B-side “Bunnies,” as McManus punctuates an unnervingly calm vocal with free jazz clarinet bursts.
Indicated by the evidence presented on Die, the electric eels arguably invented what we now call punk rock. Any fan of the old slash ‘n’ needs this in his/her collection.
DOWNLOAD: “Cyclotron,” “Anxiety,” “Splittery Splat”