Flashcubes – A Cellarful of Boys: The Basement Tapes [reissue]

January 01, 1970






What are the odds that a pop punk band rises and falls in
the span of four years, complete with every coulda-shoulda-woulda caveat, only
to be revived a quarter century later like Lazarus from the grave? That’s what
happened to The Flashcubes from Syracuse,
New York, who dazzled within a
whisper of the brass ring in their first incarnation only to be rejuvenated –
and feted – in recent times. They finally got to record the album they never
got to make, play landmarks like Liverpool and The Budokan, and incur such a
rabid Cheap Trick-like following in Japan that not only their tour was
huge but the live album that documented it.



And now, almost full circle, we go back to the very
beginning, where boxes of reel-to-reel tapes made in earnest optimism finally
get their due as an archival treasure. Many cities had a band that never made it, along with legions
of fans who will swear they were the great lost wonder; hyperbole growing over
time. But here are twenty-two tracks of solid evidence that -along with the
previously released anthology Bright
– makes an airtight case for The Flashcubes. The quartet seamlessly
blended pop and punk so well that one might think a casting director was



Gary Frenay was – and remains – a pop craftsman; his knack
for winning chord structure and earworm melodies deserved a bigger stage than
it got at the time. He not only wrote great hooks, he wrote great bridges that
were as good or better. “No More Lonely Nights” could have been a massive
Raspberries hit; likewise “It’s You Tonight” would have lined Badfinger’s
coffers. Arty Lenin’s songs were just as lovelorn, although his interest in
jazz guitar usually resulted in more complex chord progressions and minor keys.
The exception in this collection is “Christie Girl”, the band’s brilliant first
single, where a note-perfect pop chorus supported yearning lyrics like “I’ll
put every girl I ever knew behind me”. Where the Beach Boys were content to
dreamily sing “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, Lenin tossed in his sleep, tortured by the
separation. Here, finally, was a band matching the chops of the classic pop
bands with the angst of the punk generation. And speaking of punks…



If Gary
was McCartney to Lenin’s… um, Lennon,
then Paul Armstrong was Johnny – Thunders, Ramone or Rotten, take your pick. What
made the Flashcubes special was the union of Gary and Arty’s pop sensibilities and Paul’s
fiery, vibrant edge. Song titles including “Damaged Beyond Repair”, “I Need
Glue” and “Student Rape” (not what you’re thinking – actually a protest against
mismanagement of University funds!) should tell you all you need to know about
Armstrong’s muse. Simple and direct, his Ramones/Pistols chops provided most of
the power in the live shows. And in any discussion of great powerpop drummers,
two names usually surface: Clem Burke and Pete Thomas. But Tommy Allen takes a
back seat to no one. With a band equally adept at pop and punk, Allen’s
versatility and skill was the rock foundation that permitted Frenay to add
creative bass lines (almost a third lead guitar on “Damaged Beyond Repair”) and
let Lenin risk his most inventive fills.



Of course, even those who were first-hand witnesses might
have missed some of the subtleties of the band; live gigs were played in loud
rooms, and the band only issued two vinyl singles and a couple of cassette
tapes in their first lifetime. But thankfully Frenay recorded as often as possible.
Now modern technology is not only bringing the songs to light, but to life as well. A perfect example is
“Boy Scout Pinup”, which in muddy c-90 cassette form was a fun track, nothing
special. Gary and Tommy (with Ducky Carlisle) worked their magic, and now it
sounds like the great lost Elvis Costello track circa This Year’s Model.



The package includes a lyric sheet and poignant liner notes
from pop radio DJ and longtime fan Carl Cafarelli (Goldmine magazine), whose reaction is much like mine. Meaning those
who never knew the band are in for a real treat, and for those who grew up with
them… it’s Christmas morning.



Standout Tracks: “It’s You Tonight,” ‘Student Rape,” “Boy Scout Pinup” BILL HOLMES


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