Album Review: THE IT*MEN – Greatest Hits

Stow House Records [Release Date 2013]

Such is the unlikely life story and desperate pun off the album title, that you do start to wonder if the whole The It* Men thing is a spoof, or a thinly disguised reference to Spinal Tap. Hell, vocalist Ken Janssen’s loveable oddballs even come from Cleveland and you can just image the opening immortal line: ‘Good evening Cleveland, ringing round the auditorium (or more likely a club) as they set about doing their stuff.

The band musical history goes back to the mid-60’s and the era of the proto garage rock Their do it yourself approach is infused punk rock energy and hard rock vocals, as they move from the spartan to the bone crunching with scurrilous lyrics that are delivered with apparent total belief.

Such is the wide scope of the band’s impassioned flat our rocking, that they sometimes evoke the early punk influenced Tubes as much as garage rock swagger of the MC5. They rock out on ‘Come & Get Some’ – the first of several uncompromising titles – but they are so fast out of the starting block that you worry about their stamina as much as the material.

They quickly respond to any such nagging doubts with ‘Baby I’m Your Man, a melange of squalling guitars over a fluid bass line and rapped out lyrics that suggest they are capable of something different from the norm.

‘That’s Not the Way I Heard It’, is a bass driven groove with distorted volume levels and a Jim Morrison style scream, while ‘W.I.P.I.G.A.S’ is a would be 60’s classic rock & roll outing, with whip-crack guitar, snarled vocals and a simply message: ‘you know I’ve got to get some action or else I think I’m gonna die’.

The marvellously titled ‘Doing Drugs For You’ is predicated on a supple bass line and rhythm track as part of a tightly wrapped piece that is ready to explode, which of course it does, on one of the best tracks on the album.

The pace is unrelenting as they kick on into ‘Altamonster’, a hard driving affair with more Jim Morrison vocals and piercing  riffs, while ‘Screw the Pooch don’t quite have the substance to match the outrageous title.

In between, they rock out on their extended magnum opus ‘Death Machine’, a punky version of Iron Butterfly on which guitarist Ben Gmetro indulges himself on a wah-wah inflected, psychedelic, dirgy hard rock jam. It’s a track that will potentially divide die-hard fans from closet hippies and 70’s rock fans, who will surely revel in the spaced out drones.

Aside from this track – which stands in counterpoint to the rest of the album – the band never quite nails a signature sound, if only because at times they are too sloppy. Maybe it’s the result of their own ideological adherence to their own self imposed image.

It’s one thing to stand fiercely outside of the mainstream but quite another to carve out your own unique niche, and as a result the It* Men almost fall between two stools.

Sure they can rock and bludgeon you over the head with hard riffs, growled vocals and high octane rock, but they never quite eschew the feeling that it’s all an illusion.

Still, if nothing else, they have some great song titles of which ‘(Lily The) Deep Throat Killer’ has the lyrics to match a Peter Gunn style buzz guitar riff. They also rock out with a Dr. Feelgood riff and Motorhead style vocal on ‘Space Dancer’ and finish with their own anthem ‘It* Man Stomp’, predicated on a Bo Diddley riff.

And there you have it, what started out an apparent joke has a little more substance than you might originally have imagined. Ultimately, The It*Men are more likely to find an adopted home with the garage rock obsessed French rather than in their own rock and roll homeland of Cleveland. File under enduring primitive rock with great sense of humour. ***

Review by Pete Feenstra

 


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