"Skulls need thirty seconds to swing."
-- Yusuke Chiba, Free Devil Jam
It's not just me, okay. As a species, rock critics everywhere adulate Thee Michelle Gun Elephant with a frenzy that borders the slavish. At least, the rock critics who have heard them, few in number though they may be, do. Chris Morris, senior writer for Billboard Magazine, for example, wrote in the liner notes for Collection, "No rock band here or abroad captures the pure, undiluted spirit of rock 'n' roll like Thee Michelle Gun Elephant." While you would expect laudatory praise from the guy writing the CD's inner sleeve, this sort of oh-my-god reaction is the norm rather than a publicist's favored exception.
Troy Johnson, from Papermag.com wrote, "What little the West has heard from Thee Michelle Gun Elephant sounds like an advertisement for The Second Coming of Rock: loud, fast and full of rebel swagger."
It's not that TMGE, as their fans know them, do anything stunningly different. No, TMGE are a hodgepodge of any number of rock tropes and motifs, from the arena bombast of The Who to the pub-rock personalization of Dr. Feelgood to, oh, whomever you can think of to name drop in this space. But that's also kind of the magical mystery tour secret power that makes them something utterly unique and earth shattering.
Think of your personal favorite rock band, the single band that represents to you everything that rock 'n' roll is, was or should be. Okay, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant has that band's sound wrapped into itself somewhere. Trust me. Somehow they manage to coalesce all of rock history into a writhing snapshot of everything it's supposed to be: angry, loud, obnoxious, grinding catharsis. TMGE are a re-packaging of the same that reinvents the wheel.
In a time dominated by mewling radio-rock crooners, rap-metal fusion morons and introspective group-hug indie hipsters, the very presence of a band that marks rock as a territory still prime for personal revolution is astounding. To find a band that reminds us that a guitar properly amplified can destroy worlds is simply stunning. While I hate to come across as some sort of cultist devotee, I think it doesn't stretch the point to steal a line from an old Clash marketing campaign. In today's musical landscape, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant are the only band that matters.
Collection, as the title implies, is a greatest hits collection. TMGE have been assaulting Japanese audiences since 1993. Since '96 they have released eight full lengths in their native market, including a live album from 2000 that I would personally kill to own.
(Perhaps we have our first Evilsponge contest. Whoever gets me a copy of Casanova Said "Live or Die" wins, um, something useful, that, you know, you might want. Email your demands to email@example.com.)
Anyway, Collection is a primer for American audiences, pulling material all the way back from 1995's mini-LP Wonder Style all the way through last year's studio release, Casanova Snake. To be perfectly honest, I can't tell you what songs come from what release (except that Smokin' Billy is from 1998's Gear Blues, the only TMGE album released in the States.) Not that it matters. Buy Collection, find a decent stereo, and drop the disc in. Press play. That's all it takes to convert you. That's all it takes for you to know.
Kazuyuki Kuhara's 1-2-1-2 kick-snare bombardment lays down the primordial rhythm of rock. Koji Ueno dresses the skeleton with bass-riff musculature just in time for certifiable guitar genius Futoshi Abe's hooks to find meat. Twelve measures into it Yusuke Chiba starts folding vocals in with rusty dagger precision and it's all over but the t-shirt sales. Everything builds, in Japanese of course (not that it matters) until the chorus of Pinhead Cranberry Dance is hurled at you like a cragged boulder from on high.
"Peenhead cwanberwy dance! Peenhead cwanberwy daaaaaannce!"
No, I don't know what the hell it's supposed to mean. That's the point. I don't need to know what the hell it's supposed to mean. It means Pinhead Cranberry Dance, damn it, and that means rock.
You're exhausted by the time Young Jaguar opens with its surf-rock on acid billy club to the skull.
You don't even want to think about the harmonica from Hi! China!.
It always happens this way, you know. Some hugely important band somehow convinces the industry that rock is dead just in time to be proven simpering morons by the next real thing. This is your chance to get to know the saviors of a genre before the rest of the world finds out, once again, that rock and roll is the only music that matters. Move your bloody asses.