Debut album from Jeffrey Lee Pierce's twisted blues-punk quartet remains strikingly relevant
It’s justice of a kind. Almost 25 years after its initial release, The Gun Club’s debut album?all but ignored in America at the time and reaching only a cult audience in Britain and Europe?is vivified by the success of those very bands whose music it helped inspire. The White Stripes, Soledad Brothers, The Von Bondies et al acknowledge their debt to Son House, Robert Johnson and Howlin’Wolf, but it’s this LA quartet’s inspired welding of punk to blues, country and rockabilly that really showed them the way.
Released in 1981, Fire Of Love was recorded in just two days, with guitarist Ward Dotson replacing Kid Congo Powers, who’d recently been poached by The Cramps (although he rejoined the band three years later). Notoriously volatile singer-songwriter and guitarist Jeffrey Lee Pierce (who died of a brain haemorrhage in 1996) was a big fan of both Marty Robbins and Ornette Coleman, which helps explain his band’s thrillingly mutant sound.
Fire Of Love is their finest work, a dark and dangerous stew of roughly hammered blues, gothic country, souped-up rockabilly and jazzy punk. Its sleazy, disaffected cool has a parallel in Lou Reed’s Transformer, an impression underlined by the fact that Pierce often sounds uncannily like Reed. Opening track “Sex Beat” sets out The Gun Club’s stall both thematically (“We can fuck forever, but you will never get my soul”) and sonically, suggesting a possessed Bo Diddley hanging out on LA’s punk scene. References to “Creole boys lying dead” (in “Jack On Fire”) and “looking for niggers down in the dark” (on “For The Love Of Ivy”, co-written with Kid Congo) raise questions about Pierce’s politics, but the part-Mexican singer is very likely adopting a redneck persona to make his point. Robert Johnson’s “Preaching The Blues” is reinvented as a slide guitar-strafed hoodoo, set at full gallop and steered by Pierce’s wail, but “Fire Spirit” shifts into British R&B territory, and co-producer Tito Larriva’s violin work lends “Promise Me” a noirish, B-movie quality. Fire Of Love prefigures the sounds of the young garage-blues gunslingers by a good quarter-century. It’s never sounded better.