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Music Review: The Scenics – Dead Man Walks Down Bayview

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The Scenics are a Toronto-based band who are self-proclaimed “punk survivors.” The group’s first incarnation spanned the years 1976-82. Their full-length debut was titled Underneath the Door and came out in 1979. Since then, there have been various demo collections, singles, a Velvet Underground tribute, and one-offs. But for all intents and purposes, their new Dead Man Walks Down Bayview is the follow-up to that first album. It only took them 33 years to get here.

To be honest, the term “punk” would not have been my first choice to describe Dead Man Walks Down Bayview. There are certainly punk elements present, but The Scenics incorporate a wide variety of influences in their music. The 10 tracks that constitute this album reflect a band with wildly eclectic taste.

The album opens with the pounding, country rockabilly “Dark Cave.” This song displays one of the biggest assets of the band, the guitars of Andy Meyers and Ken Badger. These founding members are so musically compatible that it seems as if they are telepathically linked.

Dead Man Walks Down Bayview is definitely a team effort though. Besides Meyers and Badger, The Scenics’ sound is anchored by the bass of Steve Young, and the drums of Mark Perkell. Both have played in previous incarnations of the group, so they are not exactly newcomers. Nevertheless, they provide an excellent rhythm section.

While listening to The Scenics, I found myself thinking about another “punk survivor” band, Television. There is no question that the music of the two bands are quite different. But the way that Meyers and Badger play off of each other recalls the best of what Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd achieved on Marquee Moon. One rather striking similarity is the length of the songs.

Like Television before them, The Scenics simply ignore the punk “rule” that every song should be under two minutes. I always considered that particular idea to be stupid and pretentious. Some of the finest moments of Dead Man Walks Down Bayview occur when the guitarists stretch out, and really let go. With players as talented as Meyers and Badger, it would have been a crime if they had stifled themselves in any way.

The best example of the duo’s guitar mastery comes during “The Farmer.“ The song clocks in at just under nine minutes, and nary a second of it is wasted. For one thing, the tune is one of the most melodic on the record. But they up the ante by utilizing a deliciously dissonant vocal as a counterpoint. This choice makes for a nice balance, but what is unforgettable is the guitar-driven coda. The triumph is two-fold. Not only are they able to integrate some very strong elements into one song, they make it sound effortless. These are very impressive traits.

My only quibble is pretty minor and has to do with the programming of the CD. “The Farmer” is the ninth song on the disc, followed by “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe,” which is listed as the final “bonus track.” “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe” is a very nice little tune. But “The Farmer” is probably the best song they have ever written. Is “Don’t Doubt Yourself Babe” supposed to be the encore? It is just a bit of a letdown is all.

Thirty-three years is an oddly appealing number of years between albums. Hell, it might even be 33 and a third (of a month) since the release of Underneath the Door. Not that it matters, because this is an excellent record no matter how long it took. Here’s hoping that we do not have to wait another 33 years for their next effort though.

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About Greg Barbrick