All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) 2LP
(Left For Dead Records)
It’s funny how, as perfectly well-exposed as a scene and its associated lore might be, there are always bits which are obscured by shadows. In the New York punk scene of the 1970s, for example, everybody knows many of the stories and associated minutiae for The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie and many others – even The New York Dolls and the exploits of their associated membership are are very well-known. Did you know that Johnny Thunders helped produce and preformed on songs recorded by The Senders though, reader? I didn’t either – and I like to think that having a pretty good working knowledge of punk rock is part of my job.
Listening to and generally inhabiting (or perhaps squatting in?) the two records – some live, some studio recordings (which, yes, feature Johnny Thunders on guitar) – which make up All Killer No Filler (1978 – 2001) is a particular delight because chances are good that even if you’re well-versed in the larger scene from which NYC punk sprang, you’re not going to know anything about this music. You will likely have never heard it before – and that the sound quality is as good as it is (meticulous care has been taken to refresh this music – nothing about it sounds wooden or rough or generally “like a bootleg” in any way) feels like something to treasure – even before you get into it too deeply. When that sensation overtakes listeners though, they had best hope that they don’t have anything pressing to do for about seventy minutes. That will be time reserved for running through All Killer No Filler… from front to back.
While the spell of All Killer… is not cast as soon as “Devil Shootin’ Dice” opens the A-side of the album (the sort of nasal, surf-by-way-of-rockabilly guitars are a little jarring at first – because they’re so trebly), it doesn’t take long; in fact, listeners will be sorry to see it go when the first cut closes and “The Living End” will have them held tightly – even if the vocals sound more than a little like a cartoon version of Wayne Kramer. Obvious similarities to other bands aside, listeners will find themselves hooked by the sleazy demeanor and slick disposition of the band’s performance, and that vibe will hold fast as “No More Foolin’ Me” and “You Really Piss Me Off” stand out as being some of the best proto-punk songs that pretty much anyone has ever heard. That same kind of spirit holds up on the more live-sounding (read: a little grainier, but still cleaner than the weaker songs on the album’s A-side) flipside, but the harmonica which first appears on “Do The Do” shows a different potential which never appeared on any other punk record of the era, and is capable of holding listeners of the right mind entranced. On “Do The Do” as well as on the so-sleazy-it-hurts “Crazy Date” and “Fat Face,” listeners won’t be able to get over how clear it is that the band is just reveling in its own bad taste and baser urges – but it plays so well that even the harshest critics will be unable to deny it. Those critics will be hungry for more when “Tollin’ Bells” closes the side, just as they were when “When I Die I’ll Be A Ghost” closed the A-.
As much fun as the A- and B-sides of All Killer No Filler revealed themselves to be, the greatest attraction on this Senders set is undeniably the stuff which appears on the set’s second plate – the band’s only studio-recorded release, Seven Song Super Single, and a collection of previously unreleased recordings that the band did with the assistance of Johnny Thunders at Max’s Kansas City in 1978.
As soon as “6th Street” opens the C-side of All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001), there’s just no way that listeners won’t find a marked similarity to Van Halen’s first record; the grunting urgency of Phillipe Marcade’s vocals sound almost identical to those of a very young David Lee Roth. That first discovery will make listeners’ collective jaws drop (it certainly got mine hanging open), and that stunned i\expression will endure as The Senders make their way through a tracklist which includes covers (like some by Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Willis – one of which was also covered by Elvis Presley) and some great originals. As was the case before, will thrill to just how good songs like “Don’t Make Me Mad” and “I Feel So Bad” play (particularly given that basically no distortion pedals appear at all – any overdrive which might appear on any song is one hundred percent volume-created), and genuinely wish that there was more to the Seven Song Super Single than there is.
There is more to this set though and, without question, listeners will perk up when they realize that the D-side of All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) is entirely populated by demos that The Senders did for an album which never came to pass – the sessions for which were helmed by Johnny Thunders.
As good as some of the other music on All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) might be, listeners will know why they started listening to this 2LP set as soon as “Don’t Mind Me” opens the D-side of the set. There, Thunders’ guitar playing rings through as very possibly some of the best he ever recorded; some of the stray sparks which have always thrilled fans of Thunders’ work are present, but The Senders manage to contain the famously loose cannon and make his mania work for them. In exactly the same way, Phillipe Marcade plays off of Thunders’ style and makes a loose but fantastically composed vocal performance which never falters during the song’s two-minute running, and exits just powerfully enough to have listeners energized and ready for more. As unlikely as it may seem in print, “Killing In The Family” plays exactly the same way its predecessor did (loosely – but powerfully), which paves the way for even greater returns in the forms of the Thunders-augmented take of “No Foolin’ Me,” the raucous “Please Don’t” and an ultra-squalid take of “The Living End.” Impossibly, the Thunders takes actually surpass their counterparts – and then “For Me Tonight” blasts its way through for what might be the greatest throwaway cut in history (there really isn’t a lot of it – the cut just runs through the motions, says goodnight and grunts to close the running) and then listeners are left to try and figure out how they feel about what they’ve experienced – after the needle lifts.
…And you know? As fun and frenetically but also disjointedly as it plays, no one who runs front-to-back with All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) will be able to say honestly that they’ll be done with the album after just one pass through it – there’s just too much to absorb in one shot. Throughout both of the discs in this 2LP set, the sense of joy and fun never fades, the energy level never dips and the running never leaves listeners feeling like they can lift the needle early or step away in the middle of a side; just like at a concert, it feels as though you might be doing the band a disservice if you even step away to hit the restroom, mid-set. That’s the mark of a great live record – and that’s undeniably a defining characteristic of All Killer No Filler (1977 – 2001) – it demands attention, and rewards in kind. [Bill Adams]