Release Date: May 28, 2013
Record label: In the Red Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Garage Punk, Indie Rock, Punk Blues
Back together, 16 years after releasing their last album, Oblivians prove age is no barrier to howling garage rock's teenage cry of lust. The teenage bit is important: despite being in middle age, Oblivians cast their songs in a mythologised teen world of pinball and battles of the bands, where Suzi Quatro is still a heroine. If their own songs are stellar – Pinball King sounds like it could have been transplanted straight from one of the dumber, more fun albums out of New York in 1977, while Run for Cover is Motörhead reimagined by Deep South 60s freaks – then their covers are even better.
Memphis garage ne'er-do-wells the Oblivians called it a day in 1997 after a brief but fruitful run that would make them one of the more important and influential acts in their field. Along with few other revered trash rockers like the Gories, the Mummies, or Flat Duo Jets, the Oblivians paved the way for the next generation of garage punks, including notable success stories like Jay Reatard, the White Stripes, and the Coachwhips. Desperation comes after more than 15 years away from the studio, but you wouldn't know it from the initial spin.
The Oblivians aren’t what you’d call a household name, but those who know, know. And they know better. The Memphis trio’s sleazy rock and soul burned hot before fizzling out in 1997 after the release of their third and final studio record, Play 9 Songs With Mr. Quintron. But during their five ….
Oblivians have returned from an over 15-year hiatus at exactly the right time: when seemingly countless numbers of bands have made the Memphis trio’s trademark garage punk sound vital again. And with Desperation, their first album since 1997, Oblivians prove that they can still play the game they frontiered, and then some. Desperation cements itself in line with recent urgent garage punk instant classics like Ty Segall’s Melted: 14 songs in just over half an hour show that the band wishes to waste no time in picking up where they left off.
For the band's followers, the announcement of a new Oblivians album in 2013 was a big deal. Their last proper full-length, which came out 16 years ago, featured a punk rock band at the height of their power. The Memphis trio made music that was legitimately funny and provocative, and they made it sound dangerous. Between 1995 and 1997, they packed in blown out guitars and snarling, guttural vocals, all of which could have been filtered through a rusted out tin can.
It's nice to get a brand new Oblivians record in the mail. In the 90s, the Memphis three-piece of Greg Cartwright, Jack Yarber and Eric Friedl was seminal in fusing the rootsy, rootin'-tootin' energy of Southern soul with punk's stripped-down don't-give-a-fuck attitude. They're older and have chased their interests in different directions since they released their last full-length in 97, but it's nice to hear them playing together again.
ObliviansDesperation(In the Red)Rating: 3 out of 5 stars Memphis based guitarist/auteur Greg Cartwright (aka Greg Oblivian) may have graduated to higher profile projects with work for the Detroit Cobras, Reigning Sound and the revival of Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss, but it’s his early work in the Oblivians that is arguably his most memorable. The mid-90s two-guitar/drums lineup was responsible for some of the more gritty, punked out garage rock of the era. The bass-less trio’s shows were notoriously trashed out affairs as can be heard on the hyper energized, near chaotic Rock and Roll Holiday, recorded in 1994.
The Oblivians packed a lot into their initial five-year run, even if their work went largely unheralded outside of the sludgy, garage punk scene they helped cultivate in their home base of Memphis. But now, close to 15 years after their split, the trio’s trenchant, lo-fi brand of gutter punk has found the warm embrace of a new generation of fans, thanks in no small part to Jay Reatard, Ty Segall, and others who have helped carry their ugly torch. That said, the timing couldn’t be better for an Oblivians reunion and a new record to boot.
You can blame ‘em or credit ‘em, take your pick. That 5-out-of-5-stars rating, above, will probably give you a hint as to where this southern boy’s loyalties lie. For those of you not so enamoured of the lo-fi, early ‘90s garage/punk crud the Memphis trio so brazenly and brilliantly pioneered, feel free to plug in your own “1” or “0” stars.
Oblivians - "Call the Police" As more indie and punk bands from the 1990s reform in the 2010s, fans have a right to be skeptical, or, at the very least, cautious. This seems particularly apt with a band like the Oblivians, whose essential charm was rooted in a drunken, sweaty ineptitude that placed blood, guts and mangled blues over pure technique and musicianship. How do you recreate such intense, chaotic moments when, chances are, you can’t even remember them? In the case of the Oblivians’ excellent new album on In the Red — the trio’s first in 16 years — apparently they don’t even bother to recollect.
The Oblivians' catalog set the standard great garage-punk albums get measured against. From 1993-97, the lo-fi trio – Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright, Jack Yarber, and Goner Records founder Eric Friedl, each sharing duties on guitar and drums – cut three LPs of rabid R&B about guitar-shop assholes and Memphis creeps. Following a brief return in 2012, the band's comeback, cut at Dan Auerbach's Nashville studio, stumbles back into the fray like a high school dropout at a 20-year reunion.