Album Review: The Sonics, ‘This Is the Sonics’
Rock and roll was pronounced dead many years ago. Of course, we, the faithful, know that's a lie; there is proof all around us that it can live and breathe if given the chance.
While many of the young'uns are giving it a go, it seems the elders have to come back in to show us how it's done. Please welcome, the Sonics.
In the early '60s, the Sonics were among a handful of powerhouse bands from the great Northwest including the Wailers, the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders. Above them all, the Sonics stood tall, dishing out a fierce, almost brutal attack that would inspire many along the way, unknowingly laying the template for much of what was to be known as punk rock a decade later.
With a stripped down, primal approach -- inspired by gritty R&B and originators like Little Richard -- the Sonics issued a few albums and an essential batch of singles back in '65 and '66, including such classics as "The Witch," "Shot Down," "Boss Hoss" and "Psycho." Their legend lived on among fans for decades, then in the late 2000's, the unlikely happened when the band reunited to play a series of concerts around the world. With interest in the Sonics at an all time high, and heads turning at every stop, they carried on with live gigs. Now, in 2015, they have unleashed their first new album in almost 50 years, and guess what -- This Is the Sonics freakin' rocks!
Original members Jerry Roslie (lead vocals, keyboards), Larry Parypa (guitar, vocals) and Bob Lind (sax, harmonica, vocals) are joined by Freddie Dennis, formerly of the Kingsmen and the Liverpool 5, on bass and vocals, and the youngster of the band, drummer Dusty Watson. All members are at or beyond the age of 70, except for Watson who is in his 50s. You can see people wincing and shaking their heads already: What do these old men think they are doing? Are they trying to relive their youth? Why don't they just hang it up? To that we say, screw you! Any sort of ageism will be instantly shot down once the needle hits the groove on This Is the Sonics.
A rousing version of the Ray Charles classic "I Don't Need No Doctor" kicks off the album with more fire and passion than most bands a quarter their age. From that first track on, it's a rapid fire assault, one punch after another, never letting up for a moment; there is no time for introspective ballads here.
"Be a Woman," written by Dave Faulker of the Hoodoo Gurus, hits next -- and it hits hard. The album's first single, "Bad Betty," written by Lind, is the most pure example of rock and roll you are likely to hear all year, as the vocals practically rip the cones on your speakers while the band tears up the rest.
The record combines original material alongside some choice covers including a monstrous take on "Sugaree." No, not the Grateful Dead song of the same name, but rather a song written in the late '50s by Marty Robbins. The Sonics, needless to say, inject it full of venom and steroids here, turning it into a classic of their own.
"You can buy a one way ticket if you wanna go to Mars / You might be disappointed cause they got no whiskey bars," Roslie states in "Save the Planet," a song that avoids the NPR cliches of that sort of mission statement, by leveling things to a more basic premise: "Why would we ever move away from here / We've got rock and roll / We've got all the beer."
The 12-track album ends with another Lind composition, "Spend the Night," which provides the perfect closer to this unhinged ride. Like most great albums, it's over before you really know what hit you.
The spirit of rock and roll is alive and well and we will gladly put this LP up against anything flying under that flag that is released this year. The Sonics play with a fire and passion that most bands -- especially those of a certain age -- can only dream of. We must also provide thumbs up to producer Jim Diamond who perfectly captures it all, even recording them in mono. The record has vintage vibe all over it to be sure, but it never sounds dated -- rather, This Is the Sonics is very much alive.
Memo to Mick and Keith -- it's not about mincing, posing and running a marathon on some garish, large stage; it's about kicking out the jams! The Rolling Stones, among others, should listen to this record, catch a Sonics show ... and maybe then they'll see how it can be done as septuagenarians. This is not only the Sonics -- this is rock and roll!