Plays for Lovers

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It's far too easy to say Dischord just puts out nothing but hardcore; this album shows that even in the early days Ian Mackaye wasn't willing to keep his scopes so narrow. Drawing from funk as much as punk, Beefeater cooks up a groovy combination on their debut album. It's not as strong as, say, Gang of Four -- the clipped brutality of sound that the Leeds foursome created isn't touched here, though Mackaye's production and Don Zientara's engineering is clear and crisp enough. Plays for Lovers sure beats the heck out of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' efforts around the same time, with far more intelligence to boot. Bassist Birdzell cuts in the slap bass as needed, but never sounds like he wants to wank with the damn thing, a distinct improvement over some Bootsy wannabes out there. Guitarist Smith is even more impressive, able to cut in both direct riffs and free-form smoking solos. That the band covered Hendrix's "Manic Depression" isn't so surprising as a result, but what is more impressive is that they did a fine job of it. Squip has an at once amiably nerdy, sly, and righteous tone in his singing, and if the lyrics often cover expected material of the time -- what perhaps is to be expected from a song called "Reaganomix," after all? -- the freakier free-form rants at points steer away from typical rhymes and kneejerk responses. To be sure, when he runs out of breath at the ends of lines it can be tiring, but it could be worse. Brian Nelson adds some nice skronky sax on a couple of songs. Plays for Lovers isn't the most world shattering of releases, but it stands out nicely from its expected milieu -- and having an acoustic ditty, "Fred's Song," talking about how "skinhead guys just turn me on" is a nice touch.

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