The Sonics: This Is The Sonics
These days it’s not unusual to hear talk of band reunions. It seems like every broken-up band eventually gets back together. Some of those, like Phish, Van Halen, or Genesis, seemed inevitable. Some bands, however, fall into the “unlikely” category. Usually that is due to bad blood within the band, especially in the case of groups like the Eagles, The Stone Roses, or The Police. All of those bands buried the hatchet, at least for a little while, and made triumphant comebacks, though a few others like The Smiths, The Byrds, or Dire Straits…well, we are not holding our breath.
Even still, none of those reunions, real or hypothetical, are nearly as unlikely as the return of legendary Seattle garage-rockers The Sonics, whose last album of original material was called Boom, released in 1966, some 49 years ago.
Who are The Sonics, you might ask? You are forgiven, if you don’t know. While they were one of the more successful of the mid-60s garage-rock boom, they never achieved major-label status or any real level of fame, and they soon split up to forge careers of the normal man. But their few records fell into the hands of many aspiring musicians and The Sonics wound up becoming major influences on bands in the punk, grunge, indie, and garage revival movements. Without The Sonics, there would be no Nirvana, Ramones, Stooges, Black Keys, White Stripes, or Pavement. Songs like “Strychnine”, “The Witch”, “Boss Hoss”, “Cinderella”, and “Have Love Will Travel” are the sonic blueprint for so much of what came later, whether directly from the records or filtered down through the ages, that their influence is almost immeasurable. Gerry Roslie’s gritty holler, Larry Parypa’s overdriven guitar leads, and Rob Lind’s reedy sax licks (a rarity in rock at that point) added a new level of grit to rock & roll. In short, those records kick ass.
So after living more or less “normal” lives for 40 years or so, and occasionally reforming for one-offs, The Sonics reformed in earnest in 2007, performing at festivals around the world, and blowing audiences away once again. After so much time away from the biz, I don’t think anyone expected that the band would still have it, but they totally rose to the occasion, influencing a whole new generation of garage rockers (helping to define Little Steven’s Underground Garage channel on Sirius). In 2010, the band released an EP, with a few new songs and some live cuts, but it was a pretty obscure disc and it went largely without notice.
Then came the news that The Sonics were working on a new album. Certain sectors of the music world were shocked that, after all this time, there would be a new album, but no one really expected it to be anything more than a pleasant afterthought, to bookend their career as a band.
But then the record came out.
Simply put, This Is The Sonics is the best comeback album…ever. Hell, it even betters the band’s initial output from the 60s. They come screaming right out of the gate with the gritty wail of “I Don’t Need No Doctor” and they just keep it coming. “Be A Woman”, “Black Betty”, and “The Hard Way” all rock harder than anything the Stooges ever put out, and the version of “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover” is by far the best that has ever been recorded. “Sugaree” (not the Grateful Dead or Elizabeth Cotton song of the same name) is a dizzying track that sends every band they ever influenced back to Rock School, while “Leaving Here” proves itself to be the grungiest record to ever come out of Seattle. You could put Mark Lanegan in front of Mudhoney, with Dave Grohl on drums, and even they couldn’t make a record like this.
Gerry Roslie might be 71 years old but his voice has lost none of its edge, and Larry Parypa’s guitar and Rob Lind’s sax scream and wail harder than anything you will hear from a band of 20-somethings. Original bassist Andy Parypa and drummer Bob Bennett were unable to commit and are replaced by the rhythm section of Freddie Dennis (bass) and Dusty Watson (drums), and their energy propels these recordings even more. This is music that makes you want to dance yourself dizzy. This is music that makes you want to drive a hundred miles an hour. This is music that makes you want to shout.
The Sonics ain’t no ballad band, and they make that very clear as they roll through the classic, “Look At Little Sister”, another ferocious take that betters any version that came before, and “I Got Your Number” which pounds a four-on-the-floor that leaves you with no choice but to bang your head. “Living In Chaos” features one of Gerry Roslie’s greatest vocals….man, no one can scream like that. Every heavy metal and hardcore singer that ever lived wishes he can scream like that. “Save The Planet” may be slightly slower but it is still heavy and features one of the best lyrics on this album – “You can buy a one-way ticket if you want to go to Mars / you might be disappointed coz they got no risqué bars” and then goes on to say that we should “all get loose and drink a little brew” because “party time is here”. Ain’t that the truth. Closing out the album is the dirty, old-school punk thrash of “Spend The Night”, featuring the sort of overdriven power-chord riffery that made Dave Davies famous.
And that’s it. In 32 minutes, The Sonics do what most bands can’t in their entire output. They make you BELIEVE. Despite what is proving to be a relatively massive success, I wouldn’t count on a follow up. Which is quite alright with me. No band could ever deliver a greater exclamation point than this.
The Sonics prove it – 70 is the new 20. What are YOU doing?
Written by: Chris Anderson