You’ve got to respect Death [from Detroit] for the way they’ve chosen to conduct themselves over the years. Really think about it, reader; this is a band who, since changing their name and turning to punk rock in 1976 has only released six albums [Death started in 1973 as a funk band called Rock Fire Funk Express] – most of which were released long after they were originally recorded anyway. It goes without saying that no one in the group has really taken themselves seriously as a band and have only done it for fun, when there was time.
It might sound ridiculous, but that pigheaded refusal to acknowledge their own real value as a pop or punk band has kept their releases exciting. They put out material when they feel like it and/or have time and that music always appears gleaming with promise because everything about it is an escape from the everyday for everyone involved – for both listeners and the band itself. That, presumably, is what has kept the music light and energetic.
All of those aforementioned aspects are present and accounted for from the moment that the “Give It Back” seven-inch’s title track opens the A-side. There, amid a simple beat, formulaic bass (which is locked tightly to the song’s chord progression) and a brilliantly poppy guitar part, singer/bassist Bobby Hackney keeps his inspiration (and lyric sheet) simple and vague (how else would one quantify lyrics like “When we were children, we made believe/ We grew up to find out life ain’t what it seems/ Day in and day out, you ask ‘Is this all?/ If life is a party, then where is the ball?’”) as he laments the perils of growing up and begs to go back to simpler times. In almost any other band’s hands, this story would quickly break down into a miserable lament of lost opportunities, but it never makes that turn in Death’s hands; for four minutes, the band keeps the mood light and bouncy, and concedes that they owe the world and need to give back for all the fun they’ve had. It’s cute and responsible – a perfect balance between young fun and adult responsibility.
For its part, the B-side song “Playtime” angles a little more toward a genuine punk angle (in an Iggy and The Stooges or MC5 kind of way) but unlike those who have attempted similar punk angling before, there is precisely no veiled darkness waiting in the wings here. When the band calls out the song’s title as a choral rejoinder and then follows it with likes like “Grab your toys/ Everybody in/ Everybody wins/ Make some noise,” there’s no doubt that the song is just a genuine call to have fun. It’s an attractive call too – the guitars supplied by Bobbie Duncan split the difference between energy that is frenetic and fun-loving in the same tradition that bands like The Vaselines, The Who and The Fastbacks did.
Clocking in at under ten minutes, there’s no question that those who hear the “Give It Back” single will still be hungry for more after they’ve run through both sides. The spirit and energy of it is as addictive as it is simple. Will those who get hooked have to wait long for Death to answer this seven-inch? Who knows – if history means anything, a follow-up will come just as soon as the band feels like doing more; that could happen in a year or two or ten or more, it’s anyone’s guess. With that sort of “wide open and unknown” timeline, those who have just discovered Death may feel a bit discouraged but they can take heart: with the multitude of reissues and other such albums available in Death’s catalogue, there’s lots of music for listeners to discover and love while they wait for a new full-length to come along.
The “Give It Back” 7-inch is out now. Buy it here, directly from Death: deathfromdetroit.com/give it back-sales.htm.