View From The Bottom EP
What Porterhouse Records has been doing over the last couple of years has proven to be pretty thought-provoking. The label had already established a name for itself – releasing deluxe edition vinyl reissues from bands like Circle Jerks, Urge Overkill and All – but keeping a second hustle releasing reissues by even more obscure artists has really proven to be an inspired choice. Last year, for example, Porterhouse pressed and released a reissue of Young Canadians’ seminal single “Hawaii” to raves from those few who were able to obtain a copy of the very limited pressing, and that spirit was (loudly) echoed when the label reissued copies of the Born Too Soon LP by underrated Montreal punks SC.U.M. With those releases already a matter of public record and favor, news that Porterhouse is releasing a reissue of The Modernettes’ excellent EP, View From The Bottom, is sure to have those familiar with the music absolutely titillated – while those unfamiliar with the name will definitely be interested due to Porterhouse’s previously released reissues.
In the name of brevity, The Modernettes were a fairly short-lived but celebrated punk band which originated in British Columbia in the late Seventies but, to illustrate just how embraced they were at the time (that’s pre-internet and with a fairly limited number of press outlets and available routes to book tours), they quickly became regarded as one of the best band’s in the province. Eventually, I became passably acquainted with the band in the Nineties when they made a seconds-long cameo (as did DOA and Art Bergmann) in Hard Core Logo; that appearance is the thing which caused me to learn more about the band than that cameo afforded, but I still wasn’t really familiar when this reissue arrived on my desk for review.
As soon as stylus catches groove on the A-side of the View From The Bottom and “The Rebel Kind” makes its introduction, many of the reasons why The Modernettes were so locally acclaimed at the time become clear. The song opens gently with singer/guitarist Buck Cherry offering a tone that is reflective, sincere and genuine in a similar way to how John Doe presented himself on X’s first couple of records, while bassist Mary Jo Kopechne and drummer John “Jughead” McAdams earnestly shadow him after the first couple of bars for the duration of the song. At every turn through “The Rebel Kind,” there is an unmistakable sense of unity in the band; the song doesn’t feature a solo break and everyone is in focused lockstep with each other until it closes – there’s no nonsense and no flare, just a great song.
The second cut on the A-side of the EP pays tribute to the alt-rock gods with a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” but, even on first play, listeners will be able to note that The Modernettes have gone out of their way to make the song their own. There, Mary Jo Kopechne takes the mic and completely replaces Nico’s chilly monotone with an absolutely heart-wrenching vocal performance which can only be heard to be believed. Kopechne absolutely owns the song – makes it her own – and it ultimately proves to be the perfect punctuation for the side. When “Femme Fatale” ends here, listeners will have to actively resist the urge to swoon – no one could possibly have expected it, but it’s with “Femme Fatale” that The Modernettes steal listeners’ hearts. You won’t have seen it coming, but the band will have you – have everyone – after the cover plays through.
To its’ credit, the B-side of the View From The Bottom EP plays much the same way as the A-, but with the added benefit of the movement already being warm. “Red Nails” opens the B-side really, really well with a tale of “the morning after” held together with an undercurrent of “how did we get here?” confusion. Cherry’s guitar feels incredibly haunting as it paces its way around lyrics marked by obvious uncertainty (check out lines like, “Red nails betrayed by a kiss/ Who thought it would come to this?” and, “She gets up and goes to the door/ Wearing makeup from the night before”) before coming to the conclusion that nothing about the scenario can end well (see, “Bodies on the floor/Oh Jesus – give me this and more”) before crashing headlong into the song which deserves every ounce of the praise that The Modernettes were afforded in their heyday, “(I Can Only Give You) Everything.” There, backed with a power pop progression that would soon become timeless in tone because it would soon be copied by everyone (but that was still exciting, in this case, because it was still brand new), Buck Cherry finds a perfect melodic hook to wrap his vocals around and pairs it with a really nasally-intoned guitar figure to arrive at a musical form capable of playing well in arenas or in shower stalls on any day of the week. For about two and a half minutes, The Modernettes show punks how to play just like Cheap Trick, but improve the form by making it sound fresh and homegrown. To this day – decades later – “(I Can Only Give You) Everything” is the standard by which many of The Modernettes’ contemporaries (CanCon stalwarts like The Killjoys, The Odds, some members of Sloan, Treble Charger, The Gandharvas and more) would be judged.
…And, just to round out the side (as well as give the EP some of the same kind of sexual tension that used to make X great), “Static” closes out the EP by showing that The Modernettes are indeed capable of being absolutely bombastic in their presentation. There, Mary Jo Kopechne retakes the mic but, rather than trying to sound chilly, listeners will delight in the results when she just pours her heart into lines like, “Heard it first a long time ago/Just a thought now it’s grown it grows/ Like a voice at the end of the street/ Near the place where the bad kids meet – uh oh…,” before she’s enveloped again by the song. After that, “Static” still has a bit of fuel in the tank and listeners will find themselves still loving the power and the pop in it, until it finally collapses and the side closes. As it does close though, listeners will already be able to feel the end looming – and they’ll already be wishing there was more music to find, before the needle lifts.
Standing back from it, it’s impossible not to feel invigorated by this new reissue of View From The Bottom. That sensation may come, in part, from the EP’s relative obscurity; while The Modernettes would release more music before the band called it a day, View From The Bottom was both a very good and very small release when it first appeared in 1982, and still feels very much that way. Then as now too, with only three hundred copies pressed, this record is one to be treasured by those who happen upon it. [Bill Adams]
The Porterhouse Records reissue of The Modernettes’ View From The Bottom EP is out now. Buy it here, directly from Porterhouse Records’ official website.