The concept is cheekily brilliant: Detroit garage fuzzfiends The Dirtbombs take on the greatest hits of that same city’s electronic music scene, which played an important if not seminal part in shaping the dance music sounds of the late eighties and nineties. However, Party Store reinforces the truism that albums with amusing concepts may not be all that amusing in practice. They may not even be very good.
Actually, that last crack is a bit unfair, because Party Store achieves its objectives with a certain fidelity: it would have been easier to bash out something less reverent and considered, to chop the tunes down to their core parts and condense them, but The Dirtbombs have kept the structure and feel of the tunes as well as the rhythms and melodies (or lack thereof). I’m not going to go and compare track lengths with the originals, but more than half of these cuts run to over five minutes, and the version of Innerzone Orchestra’s epic “Bug In The Bassbin” clocks in at a weighty 21 minutes 22 seconds… 12″ remix, geezer, you know the score! It’s a curiously obsessive experiment, straight-faced, flying in low and slow from the deep outfield: who’s this album for, and what are they meant to do with it?
I’m buggered if I can work it out. I mean, if you’re gonna dance around all night with a head full of Alexander Shulgin’s very finest, you’re probably going to go back to the originals, whose smooth electronic textures and historical authenticity ensure that they still crop up on dancefloors all over the world even to this day, and I’d imagine it’s a very select segment of the garage rock crowd in every town (with the exception of Detroit itself, perhaps) that would know these tunes well enough to get the joke. But there’s the thing: The Dirtbombs arguably helped Detroit earn its noughties rock’n'roll recognition with their second album, which was – wait for it – a collection of Motown era classics reinterpreted in the garage-guitar vernacular. So this is The Dirtbombs speaking to their roots, to their city’s roots, and to the world that’s writing their city off as a declining post-industrial dystopia: it’s a record freighted with referential meaning, which is demonstrated by the press release containing the sort of pretentious art-school theorising that chin-stroking webzine music hacks like myself deploy on completely inappropriate subject matter:
With “Good Life” – originally by Kevin Saunderson via his Inner City outfit – Collins recontextualizes the upbeat modern dance élan to echo with post-punk zeal as the zest of doubled harmonies resonates throughout.
Erm, quite. “Good Life” is one of the oddest tunes on Party Store, because of the dominant vocal hook that anyone over twenty five or so must remember, if only vaguely. But what a contrast to the liquid soundscapes of the original, as horrid out-of-sync skronky guitars try to recreate the tune’s complex vamping piano loop; the vocals, by comparison, are pretty decent, albeit in a “who’s this slightly spaced-out sounding dude, and what’s he doing singing a record I don’t quite recognise?” kind of way.
That sense of disconnection persists throughout, leaving me to conclude that either this is a quirky statement of civic solidarity in tough times from an already eccentric band, or that I’ve grown too old and befuddled to understand hipster humour. The concept is a lot of fun, and it’s genuinely interesting to hear a garage rock and roll act doing straight-faced covers of music created for a completely different set of instruments and audiences (the “… Bassbin” cover in particular is a thing of staggering snare-rattling ambition, attention to detail and dead-pan wig-out daftness), but would you ever want to listen to it as anything other than an intellectual exercise in post-modern musical irony?
Well, okay, maybe you would. Damn kids, you get off my lawn with your elastic-cuffed stonewash jeans. When I was your age, we played synthesizers, d’you hear? Synthesizers!