Love Is Dead
SNATCHES OF PINK: A NON-BIO Michael Rank: vocals, guitar Marc E. Smith: guitar, vocals Nikos Chremos: bass, John Howie Jr.: drums, How many "non-bios" cross your desk or fill your screen each week? Probably about as many as there are bands that compare to Snatches of Pink. Yet that's what this is. I mean, okay, you need a few facts about these guys - how they've been around for a while but still sound like a mob of garage punks whose teenage angst has only deepened beneath the weight of experience. We'll get to that, but first a word from Michael Rank, who has tended the flame that this band lit back in the late eighties, with songs already too dark, performances too indifferent to fashion, to thrive in mainstream pop's fickle light. Still, they were built for cult adoration, and over the years they've prospered in a connoisseur's netherworld, rooted in the scene they helped spawn in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but willing to snarl and stumble, slouch and sprawl onto the high ground that only a few such saints attain. Obviously, there's a story, maybe even a novel or two, in their odyssey, yet Rank is wary. "Bios are tricky for me," he says, genially apprehensive, "because they need to be informative, and I'm the kind of person who likes description and mood more than facts. So I've always tried to find a creative way to begin them. The problem is, whenever you get too creative, you come off as a pretentious ass." Well, we can't have that, obviously. It's probably better to let other people go overboard, like the writers who lauded SOP's "unkempt, unruly garage crunch" (Rockpool), suggested that their "stirringly urgent" performances evoke "a big-time boogie band debilitated by bad drugs" (Trouser Press), broke it all down to "guitars raw and raging and vocals slurred and dangerous" (indie-music.com), or tagged them simply as "arrogant, excessive, and beautiful" (Magnet). All of which is true, not to mention deftly worded ... but it only hints at what SOP has pulled off on it's long and far from exhausted run, from the stages they've shared with the Ramones, the Cramps, Iggy Pop, Johnny Thunders, and Soundgarden, to their endurance through various Rank solo projects and a revolving door of members hoping to claim a place in this band's rough and rugged legacy. More to the point, it doesn't even touch on what SOP have accomplished with Love Is Dead, their latest release and a milestone in their catalog for more than one reason. First of all, it heralds the arrival of 8th House Records, whose first releases drop simultaneously on April 24: Love Is Dead and Here Tomorrow Gone Today by the label's other inaugural artists, Two Dollar Pistols. Founded by Rank and John Howie Jr., who divides his time between playing with both bands, 8th House represents the end of SOP's wanderings through a wilderness of labels big and small, thriving and forgotten, whose one common element seems to be puzzlement over how to handle artists as unpredictable as Rank and company. That, in turn, says much about why Love Is Dead both affirms and departs from what people have come to expect from this band. The essentials - ultra-greasy guitar, a raw, high-impact feel even at slow-motion tempos, blurry collective vocals - are there. "I still wear my influences on my sleeve," Rank admits. "But I've never been ashamed of that. I'm a huge fan of the late seventies, especially those albums that come along right when the band is breaking up - the albums after the ones that everyone else loves, like Emotional Rescue and Draw the Line. Whether that comes through in my music, who knows? But that's what I listen to." You actually can hear that on Love Is Dead, though it's harder to pick up the disco and glam influences that Rank insists are also there. What's more important is what separates this album from the rest of SOP's catalog, beginning with the fact that it's packed with nearly an hour's worth of exquisite din. "I usually go into sessions with ten songs and come out with ten recordings," Rank says. "For this album, there was a three-month period where I just couldn't stop writing. I probably had 32 songs, which was definitely the most I ever had to choose from." What explains this torrent of material? Was Rank just feeling really good? "No, I was feeling really bad," he answers, sounding a little apologetic before adding, "I'm feeling really good now." Love Is Dead isn't just about numbers, though. The songs themselves feel more developed, especially when you follow the words. "Lyrics, to me, have always been a necessary evil, just something to fill in the blanks of the melody. I was always reluctant to make them too personal. But on this album I wrote about what was going on in my heart. That's new to me too." With that, we're led perilously close to the edge of poetry on the grimly romantic "Smile" ("Come on baby, dry your sighs/Come on baby, dry your smiles ... Arms pulled back, and a fingered throat - and you don't come I like come away"), the ominous ballad "Straight" ("Even in this light, you are the heart of reason/Eyes open wide, I know"), and in the hallucinogenic romanticism of "Opposite of Horse." ("Maybe you'll just marry me and color from above. Well, maybe I'm just half asleep and sometimes half in love.") "I wrote that one at 12:45 at night," Rank says. "I started writing in one of the bedrooms in my house. By 2:15 I'd finished recording it, and that's the exact version that's on the album ..." You can practically hear him shrug over the phone. "It was that kind of a month ..." From sluggish, druggy dirges to raunchy, roiling squalls, Rank stands at the center of Love Is Dead, as writer, producer, guitarist, and first among the unruly assembled vocals. But the contributions of the rest of the band are critical too, particularly in their ability to adapt to Rank's sometimes quizzical vision. "I love f***-ups," he explains. "That drives my band mates crazy, even though there's less of that with this album than on the last one. There's just something about mistakes that I love. I'll even turn them up in the mix. These days, people get stuck with recording what they've practiced at home a million times, but they're missing this great thing that you got from the Stones, Aerosmith, and Johnny Thunders, where they screw up. Those guys are my heroes. To me, that's rock & roll." Just to clarify: Love Is Dead is not a car crash of missed beats and dropped chords. But neither is it a dose of pop music pabulum. These guys wouldn't even make the first round of American Idol rejects - they're too good for that. Simon Cowell would eat them alive - and then wake up the next day a better man. The anti-Idols, celebrated in an anti-bio: You read it hear first. Now listen: Bands like this are too few, too exhilarating, and too desperately needed to ignore.