Memphis garage ne'er-do-wells the Oblivians called it a day in 1997 after a brief but fruitful run that would make them one of the more important and influential acts in their field. Along with few other revered trash rockers like the Gories, the Mummies, or Flat Duo Jets, the Oblivians paved the way for the next generation of garage punks, including notable success stories like Jay Reatard, the White Stripes, and the Coachwhips. Desperation comes after more than 15 years away from the studio, but you wouldn't know it from the initial spin. Charging out of the gates with the primordial thump of "I'll Be Gone," the 2013 Oblivians sound only subtly less deviant, primitive, and out of control than their younger selves, and the tunes get wilder and uglier from there on out. Caveman rockers like "Em" or no-fi, Cramps-like mono freak-outs like "Mama Guitar" put the band in the same rare stratosphere as their tourmates the Gories, and punk-blues stompers like "Loving Cup" show some pretty strong examples of where the White Stripes originally got their cues when it came to guitar finesse and swaggering vocals. Songwriter and guitarist Greg Cartwright stayed busy with a number of projects in the years between Oblivians records, and the fuzzy take on the '60s pop of "Little War Child" is befitting the side of Cartwright's muse that helped classic girl group singer Mary Weiss of the Shangri Las write the majority of her 2007 comeback album Dangerous Game. An odd cover of Stephanie McDee's zydeco party anthem "Call the Police" loses the push of the original when stripped down to its rawest elements, but proves only a brief stumble before things pick back up with the wanton juvenilia of "Pinball King." With Desperation, the Oblivians make it sound like they never left, and even more impressively, they do it without dating their sound or relying on nostalgia for the long-lived days of a bygone '90s garage scene. The 14 barebones blasts that make up the record serve not just as a testament to the group's legendary status, but a reminder of the ageless spirit of rock & roll at its most fundamental level.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas