Every once in a while a record comes along that embodies all that is great and holy about the rock. I imagine the guys in The Left would smirk at the concept of rapture through high energy punk, but without a doubt ?Jesus Loves the Left: The Complete Studio Recordings? is one of those records. This is basically what happens when a handful of young dudes with great record collections and a keen appreciation for the history of the rock, a firm distaste for all things pop and the chops to back it all up get some real studio time and cut loose like doomsday could hit tomorrow.
Bona Fide, the folks responsible for recent reissues by ?70s acid punk guitar god George Brigman, get a little more hardcore punk with their latest release. The Left were a revered mid 80s Baltimore punk band that combined wry, often hilarious social commentary with tight, arty arrangements that touched upon The Stooges, 13th Floor Elevators and the more expected practitioners of the form, mainly The Angry Samoans and Radio Birdman. Here was a genuine punk band that was not afraid to indulge in its love of garage and 60s psych and rocked with more authority than 90% of their peers in the process.
Opener ?Hell? sets the tone with a crashing bang. It?s probably the signature Left tune with lyrics (penned by band 5th member Kiki Kelly) that give a breakdown worthy of Dante before arriving at the conclusion that ? get this ? it?s right here, and we?re living in it. Maybe no real revelation, but the music is phenomenal: lashing riff duels with fierce bass/drum interplay that gives the MC5 a serious run for its money. There?s the pitch-perfect ?Youngster on the Force,? which should touch a nerve for anyone that ever met a guy who, ??just got out of narc school and he thinks he knows the world.? Again, the music enthralls with a torrent of three chord battery and mined-bending solos, all over in less than two minutes. The rockabilly tinged ?Stop? is shorter than a minute, but just long enough to kick your ass good before the fantastic slow crawl of ?R.I.P.? lights the funeral pyre with an opening riff lifted from Thirteenth Floor Elevators? ?Rollercoaster? and a hardcore chorus that basically shouts at the human race: ?Evolve or die!? Talk about prescience. And there?s so much more like the hilarious tribute to drunken indifference, ?Fuck It,? the beautiful Husker Du meets Buzzcocks rush of ?Attitudes,? the pissed off call to arms of ?Frontline.?
Every song these guys pull out of their hat combines a raw rock backdrop with rich social observation that?s both sardonic and just plain intelligent enough that it doesn?t feel like the listener is being told over and over, ?society is fucked and YOU have to do something about it,? even though that?s basically what?s happening. The real challenge for any band like this: Can you indulge that social imperative without preaching? The Left answers the question with a resounding yes.
And there?s a more too. They skewer TV soap culture (a particularly bizarre American phenomenon) with ?My Shows,? racial strife with ?The Vietcong Live Next Door,? ?Teenage Suicide,? Aids in ?Aids Alley,? which bassist John Hornick apologizes for any political incorrectness in the liner notes. It?s a send up of gay cruising culture that?s actually sort of painfully accurate and perversely amusing, as one might expect with these guys. What else? The awesome ?Redneck 711? borrows the riff from ?Sweet Home Alabama? before turning into throbbing punk assault that skewers every redneck stereotype in the book. This is my childhood in sound! There?s a crash and burn take of ?TV Eye? that?s as tight and rip-roaring as any I?ve heard. There?s ?You?re So? which lifts note for note the riff from ?Last Train to Clarksville? and turns it into classic kraut-punk, and really there?s just not a bum track among the 20 collected here. This features two albums ? ?It?s the World? and ?Last Train to Hagerstown? (both originally issued on Bona Fide in 84 and 85, in fact) ? a compilation track and three unreleased gems that don?t suck at all. ?Jesus Loves the Left? embodies all the best and most meaningful aspects of real punk and kicks ass every second of the way. And it?s not just for the kids, either. 10/10 -- Lee Jackson (11 December, 2006)