The problem with every great music revival is that, as energizing and exciting as it might be, there’s a certain safety and security in knowing that the ideas involved have worked before and can work again in a walk – if enough people believe in it. Such thought processes have worked well several times over in the last twenty-five years, and it would be easy to figure that Vamos‘ new, Dan Rico-produced LP was just another step toward the next great rock revival – except that this album bears none of the safe, sterile and time-tested elements which are often included for the “certain success” of the nostalgic spirit. Rather, in the proud traditions of the MC5, The Stooges and the New York Dolls, Vamos just proudly lets what’s in them out all at once – really let it blurt (complete with no hard stops or breaks between songs) – and leave it all before listeners to decide what they want to do with it.
After some screeching, crashing and heavy breathing to set the mood at the opening of the album’s A-side, Vamos falls into “Outsiders” and just starts rocking hard. All of the elements which make a great punk rock song are here: the guitars aren’t distorted so much as they are just overdriven with a tremendous amount of volume, singer Ryan Murphy comes off as wild-eyed, slacker-ed and smart-assed from note one as he shows off a whole lot of talent for all three (a personal favorite is the instrumental hard stop that the band takes around the choral rejoinder of “Second verse, sort of like the first!”) and the rhythm section is screwed down so well it might as well be watertight.
Right away, anyone who listens to “Outsiders” will know that they’re hearing the real deal; the energy that the band is radiating is frayed but flawless in its intentions and does not relent until the song boils over into the second song on the side, the perfectly entitled “I Don’t Care.” There – exactly as was the case in “Outsiders” – the band cranks up an immediately infectious punk rock chord progression topped with the most overused three-word battlecry, “I don’t care.” Of course, the song doesn’t feature any particularly revelatory sonic turns, but there’s no denying that it has its charms.
As was the case in “Outsiders,” Murphy’s guitar takes on a lean, Heartbreakers-esque growl (but with greater focus and fewer stray sparks of chaos than Johnny Thunders’ playing featured) and bounces carelessly off the walls that the band’s rhythm section sets up, fantastically. Here, each turn between verse and chorus feels like it might break apart at any second and just melt down into a spectacular mess, but that never quite happens. By the time “I Don’t Care” does begin to fade out, “I Feel Righteous” is already beginning to push its way in and so holds listeners entranced because the music’s spell never quite breaks.
As the A-side begins to wind down, “Boring” registers as the only truly soft spot in the running (with the energy levels lowered, listeners will discover to their surprise that the guitar in the song just doesn’t sound as good, and Josh Lambert’s drums sound a little awkward, slowed down), but it’s happily redeemed as the slightly acid-touched “Creeper” weasels out to close the side. There, what sounds a bit like a chorus effect pedal touches the vocals and (in so doing) adds a vintage New Wave quality which suits the song incredibly well. As was the case decades ago (when punk rock was still laying roots), that chorus effect streamlines the dynamics of the song makes it easy to like and will have listeners ready for more as the side ends and the needle lifts. On the surface, “Creeper” might sound a little out of place or just odd, but it proves to have the hook which will get listeners ready and hoping for something similar on the album’s B-side.
…And, as soon as a stylus sinks into the B-side, the going starts as sleazily as one might expect of a song which features a title like “Bathroom 54.” There, Lambert kicks his drums into a pocket which produces an instantly petulant vibe while Murphy follows suit with a vocal which spits syllables to make the point that nothing about this side can be ignored or discounted. The easiest way to define the difference between the sound presented by “Bathroom 54” and the A-side of 1,2,3 as a whole is to say that the progression between them makes sense but expresses a darker tone.
The darker tone of “Bathroom 54” endures as “Mental Help” caterwauls its way into existence (following one of the few hard breaks between songs on the album), and the sort of excitable, party-punk energy which dominated the A-side of 1,2,3 doesn’t reassert itself until 2Ded4Lyfe” cuts a swath through listeners’ synapses with blazing guitars, warbling bass and hard stop-and-go dynamics. After the fairly moribund tone of “Force Of Nature,” “2Ded4Lyfe” plays like a breath of fresh air and makes the backslide of the instrumental “666” permissible (if not completely welcome). Needless to say, the comparatively muddled tone of 1,2,3‘s B-side forces listeners to work a little harder than the A-side did, but there are definitely sparks of greatness which can be found here too.
As “Do Wanna” rushes in to close the B-side of 1,2,3 on one final manic note, listeners will find it easy to follow the band back through it to the A-side of the album. The song rushes so urgently that it almost seems to twitch as the A-side did, and that is what makes it such a gem; listeners will find it easy to follow the band back to that place, and happily plough through the A-side again, as “Do Wanna” has clearly left the door open for it.
So, if it wasn’t already self-evident in following this review, yes – 1,2,3 is a great record and absolutely should start another rock n’ roll (or punk, or post-punk… the lines between those terms have become blurry) revival. The energy is here and the passion is here, all it needs now is for ears to hear it. Here’s hoping enough ears hear 1,2,3 that the album is able to live up to its potential.
1,2,3 is out now. Buy it here, directly from Maximum Pelt: maximumpelt.bigcartel.com/product/mp-111-vamos-1-2-3-lp.