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Music Review: The Gun Club – Fire of Love

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Recorded in New Orleans in just six speed fuelled days (allegedly for less than $2,000), The Gun Club’s unsettling, inspirational debut supposedly had Jack White fixated by its gut wrenching howl. Driven/Sermonized by quixotic frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce, Fire of Love is a bite from the shit sandwich of his visceral world, in which the lines of religion, morality, ethnicity, and (most importantly of all) the blues; punk and rock and roll are twisted beyond recognition. Using the souls of possessed delta troubadours and Blondie as his muse, the shamanic Californian conjured up an unsettling Bayou panorama full of menace and soaked in blood, bourbon, and voodoo.

Operating in a musical space almost all their own, (Although Nick Cave’s Birthday Party were in the neighbourhood) with Pierce adopting the mantle of a deranged Baptist preacher, the band proceeded to hone their claustrophobic 12 bar chassis into a formidable weapon, complemented by the singer's down-home hollers, yowls, and  screeches. The crepuscular results are wide eyed and adrenaline spiked, like a midnight ride in the backwoods being chased by deranged Creole lois.

"Sex Beat" opens, all uptempo slide inflected scuzz-country with Pierce getting right to his lustful subject matter, his rhymes (more like spells and incantations), sometimes instinct and often beyond language. The amphetamine inspired redrawing of Tommy Johnson’s "Preach The Blues" is a coruscating punk shower with St.Vitus shaking his bones in the backyard, but it’s when the atmosphere is less demonic that the minimalist production puts you right in the studio/front parlour with them. The bare bones sound on the cover of the equally soul selling Robert Johnson’s "Cool Drink of Water" and the Cajun violin on "Promise Me" help to entrench you in the band's mummified but reverential interpretation of a much plagiarized genre, one who's folklore lies at the heart of the American psyche.

Live, depending on Pierce’s state of lucidity, the band were either a parody of themselves or a vital affirmation, a fiery baptism into the church of a maniac, speaking in tongues Jeffrey Lee. As with all religions, sex and sacrifice are never far beneath the surface, here explored with salacious glee on the then to be classic "Jack On Fire", whilst the record’s centre piece "For The Love of Ivy" is a tortuous story of psycho sexual obsession and the fomentation of murder. Pierce was a narrator par excellence and his lachrymose but chilling words chart a descent into jealous adolescent madness framed by swampy slide guitars, screeching tempo changes, and nerve jangling passages of cadaverous silence. Supposedly inspired by The Cramps “Poison” Ivy Rorschach, it also contains the inspired closing sobriquet, “I was all dressed up like an Elvis from Hell”. (Caution: it also contains other less than politically correct lyrics)

In its weaker moments Fire Of Love is perilously close to sounding like a lazy Cramps-meets-Stooges pastiche, but Pierce’s vaudevillian effervescence carries the day, a post modern medicine man with the left hand reaching through to the other side and a reality contained in lights far from ours. Like many of his prodigiously talented blues forebears, his demons were sadly very much of the real world, and his inability to beat alcohol and heroin addictions until it was too late conspired to rob the world of his unique perspective with his death in early 1996. Although he and his band went on to record half a dozen more official albums (Both Miami and comeback effort Mother Juno are also highly recommended.) the vitality that makes Fire Of Love a seminal piece of work was mostly lacking.

The Gun Club’s influence was slow burning, mired by a drug addled loss of direction following Miami, whilst commercial success was never likely due to Pierce’s diva-like approach to record label authority, but Fire of Love is an undoubted primeval classic that still demands your immediate attention.

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