The Arthur Russell archive keeps on giv-....zzzzzzzz. Wait....come back...Fatiguing as the endless posthumous Russ glut has been, this latest is worth looking lively for: a reissue of a pretty much forgotten '82 album by The Necessaries, a new wave / power-pop unit comprising Russell (keys, vocals, cello), Ernie Brooks (bass), Ed Tomney (lead vocals, guitar) and Jesse Chamberlain (drums), with Peter Zummo on trombone. Russell wrote about half the songs. Bob Blank produces.
Can't believe I've never heard this before, or that it isn't better known. A partial re-recording of their '81 debut Big Sky, it was a commercial flop but sounds today like one of the finest new wave LPs ever committed to tape, shoulder to shoulder with Crazy Rhythms, The Modern Lovers and Stands For Decibels. From the high-velocity Feelies-alike opener 'Rage' on in, it's banger after banger: boy-meets-X love songs rendered with lightly-worn avant-garde complexity and committed punk compression.
The Russell-sung 'More Real' is a highlight, one of his most brilliantly realised pocket symphonies to God. 'Europe' is a mellifluous take on itchy, Devo-esque cold war paranoia. 'Sahara' teams spiffy Lester Square-ish leads with Zummo's horn o'plenty and sixteen horsepower drums, like Arthur Lee's Love re-edited by Larry Levan. Some of the slower, more elliptical numbers put me in mind of Mayo's Corky's Debt To His Father.
But really the best songs are those that wriggle loose of their of post-punk moorings and instead gesture towards the late '80s jangling indie ideal that we associate with Flying Nun (especially The Clean) and beyond: 'Detroit Tonight', another Arthur composition, is a wry, diffident tear-jerker that David Kilgour would be proud to call his own, while 'Like No Other' and 'Paceways' are the kind of anthems-in-defeat that Guided By Voices aspire to. In fact Tomney's vocals are at times a spit for Robert Pollard's; as a guitarist, though, he's in a class of his own, equally at home delivering tough, choppy power-chord riffage as he is vertiginous leads inna Verlaine/Lloyd style - and the result is really a guitar album nonpareil, up there with McGeoch on Siouxsie's Juju, and clipping at the heels of Marquee Moon. Seriously. Russell's keyboard parts are imaginative, understated and, like Zummo's brass, judiciously applied, while under the hood Brooks (ex-Modern Lovers) and Chamberlain (ex-Red Krayola) run a powerful and purring engine. Class.