The Germs are best remembered today for the cult of personality that grew around lead singer Darby Crash and his suicide via heroin overdose at the age of 22, but the band has long been a source of inspiration to budding punk rockers for their rather remarkable learning curve -- on their earliest recordings, the Germs were a laughably inept bunch of teenage losers, but by the time they cut their sole studio album a mere two years later, they'd grown into one of the most fiendishly powerful bands on the L.A. punk scene. Rodger Grossman's film What We Do Is Secret is a dramatization of the short but memorable life of both Crash and the Germs, and since it features new recordings of the group's songs performed by a mix of original members of the band (guitarist Pat Smear and drummer Don Bolles) and actors who appear in the movie (including Shane West as Crash and Bijou Phillips as bassist Lorna Doom), the film's soundtrack album walks a strange tightrope between historical accuracy and dramatic license. If there's a flaw in the new tracks on What We Do Is Secret, it's that they often sound better than the Germs really did -- the re-creation of "Forming," the A-side of the group's first single, is nearly as rudimentary as the original but reveals a telltale command of the instruments not clearly apparent on the originals, while the later "Germs" material boasts guitar work that's a few shades tougher and more elaborate than what Smear could conjure up in 1979. West is certainly game as Crash, and clearly did his homework, but he can't quite master Darby's drunken, consonant-swallowing bellow and unlike most of the tracks on (GI), you can actually understand what he's singing. The new material also sounds a bit tidy next to the classic L.A. punk tunes by the Weirdos, the Bags and X that have been added for the sake of local color, though Alice Cooper's "You Drive Me Nervous" tips the hat to an obvious influence and anyone who knows Crash's story will appreciate the two David Bowie tracks that open and close the album. Ultimately, the re-created Germs material on What We Do Is Secret falls into the same category as the soundtrack to The Buddy Holly Story -- in the context of the movie, it's a sincere and well-intentioned attempt to dramatize what was important about the Germs, but as a listening experience you're a lot better off with the old records (which are collected on the superb compilation (MIA): The Complete Anthology).
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming