Saturday, March 27, 2010

The saga of a punk rockin' Texas drag queen and his snotty bandmates: Thoughts on The Dicks' KILL FROM THE HEART (SST 17)

Unlike the Stains, lots of things went right for The Dicks, one of the most bizarre and incendiary punk bands to ever get captured on magnetic tape. For one thing, they are actually well served by their recordings, which is something many "legendary" punk bands can't claim. Second, The Dicks have retained relevance as a recording unit that non-punk obsessives actually care about in the here-and-now. And last, they stand as a shining example of a successful union of extreme leftist politics and a sound that was anything but by-the-numbers punk motion. I'd easily rate them as one of the best political-punk bands on a world-wide scale, mostly because underneath the flamboyance and confrontation, much of The Dicks' message was one of common sense. Issues of class, racial injustice, and police brutality were the common focus of their songs. When they took on broad subjects like war, the lyrics avoided speculative angles like nuclear annihilation and conspiratorial machinations and instead dealt with plain facts like how the poor were being used again as a pawn to serve rich nation's agendas. The Dicks were more interested in spewing out jagged, bluesy, occasionally funky, and reliably rock solid music and adding lyrical content that seemed like a bastard descendant of folk-protest staples like pre-electric Dylan and early Phil Ochs. Gary Floyd is one of punk's most striking and musically deft vocalists, a huge gay man from a state that's notorious for its close-mindedness, a guy who looked around him and definitely disliked what he saw, his distaste inspiring him to join up with some fellow oddballs (the late Glen Taylor, Buxf Parrot, and Pat Deason, for the record) and make some righteous noise. It's a bummer that KILL FROM THE HEART, the band's Spot produced entry in the SST discography is only partially represented on CD or legal download. The Alternative Tentacles compilation 1980-1986 is a nice attempt to gather tracks from the band into some kind of representative "best of", but I have a hard time getting fully behind a comp of Dicks material the doesn't include the extended caustic funkisms of "Dicks Can't Swim". I think a whopping double disc set would capture everything these lovely wackos ever put to vinyl, and a band of this stature shouldn't have to settle for anything less. If enough people bug Biafra, maybe it'll come to pass.

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