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The Dirtbombs - Horndog Fest (1998)





The Dirtbombs must be one of the coolest bands in existence. They’re not only led by Detroit’s very own Shaft (Mick Collins), already a legend in his lifetime, but they defy every imaginable rock ‘n’ roll convention, never losing their sardonic grins, sunglasses or peers’ respect in the process. They’d already released approximately 3 million 7”-singles (all of them probably owned by a few dozen garage rock collectors) when they were picked up by In the Red Records. From the swell artwork to the hilarious liner notes, song titles and overall attitude, it’s clear these guys are in it for one thing: fun. They’re not about to make thoughtful statements, display their most precious thoughts or trying to come off trendy (if anything, they preceded the whole goddamn thing). On the contrary: they wanna rock AND roll, tear through several decades of black AND white music history with a healthy disdain for separatism: The Stooges, Sly & the Family Stone, The Sonics, Barry White, Sam & Dave, … , in some way or other, all these influences end up in The Dirtbombs’ blender. However, this release is much scruffier than the stylised soul-tribute Ultraglide in Black or the latest album Dangerous Magical Noise. Twenty seconds into album opener “Vixens in Space,” and you’ll know why they’re on In the Red, because that’s exactly what all the meters do. Even though soul and garage rock are at the core of the album, you might as well call it lo-fi noise, fuzz-punk or semi-demented R&B: drummers Chandy and Ewolf lay down a rumbling foundation over which layers of fuzz and screeching guitars try to outdo each other.

No matter how much fun it is to threaten to dissolve into white noise, the band is at its best when dealing with less harmful matter: the strutting, sex-mad “I Can’t Stop Thinking About” for instance, has them employ that characteristic strut (it fits the album cover perfectly) while the ‘chicken scratch & fuzz’-fest of “Granny’s Little Chicken” tears R&B inside out, complete with heartfelt yelps and call and response-nonsense. Other tracks, like “Bittersweet Romance Song” and “Pheremone Smile” are enjoyable slabs of garage rock (the latter with ear-piercing organ) in the vein of their current stuff, but it’s obvious that the band didn’t exactly know in which direction to head at this point. Whereas “Burnt to Cinders” is a dead ringer for Damaged-era Black Flag (complete with reference to “TV Party,” I think), the lengthy (well, a four minute-song is epic on a 30-minute album) “My Heart Burns with Deeps of Lurve” sounds exactly like something only The Butthole Surfers would think of in the late ‘80’s … during a very bad acid trip, on a very bad day. So, the album’s certainly not without its flaws: repeated listens reveals songs like “Fox Box” to be quite slight and the live cuts “She Blinded Me with Playtex” and “Shake!! Shivaree” aren’t nearly as impressive as they probably were when they were recorded (“messy” is the key-word), but hey, it was never intended to be flawless, as songs sometimes come to an end when they collapse under their own chaotic impulses and screeching feedback. Horndog Fest is certainly an acquired taste, but if you dig blood-raw, lean and mean rock ‘n’ roll from one of Detroit’s finest, they might just be what you’re after (guypetersreviews.com)

Horndog Fest was the debut outing of future Detroit powerhouse the Dirtbombs. The album opens with the screeching clatter of "Vixens in Space." An instrumental assault punctuated with periodic shouts of the title phrase, the song is something like spaced-out surf-rock disintegrating as it burns through the atmosphere. For those who survive the opening onslaught, the reward is sweet. With a sexy bass groove that stutters like the Knack at times, "I Can't Stop Thinking About It" is a swaggering beast of a song. Steeped in dirty Detroit garage, punk and soul, the song also hints at the feral sexuality of a reckless young Jerry Lee Lewis. The album shows a surprisingly young sounding Mick Collins turning in a solid but not quite earthshaking performance that only occasionally hints at the iron-lunged wailer he blossomed into by the time 2001's soul-rockin' masterpiece Ultraglide in Black rolled around. The rest of the album chugs along, almost without focus. There are awkward funk lines and sundry other experimental numbers along the way. While there are high points, the album eventually gets a bit bogged down by youthful experimentation and cuteness. By trying to cover too much musical ground, the young band spreads itself too thin at times. However, looking back at the album as it fits into the evolution of the Dirtbombs' impressive catalog, it's an interesting snapshot of how the band's sound changed, matured and solidified over the years. (allmusic)

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