One of the more entertaining mysteries of 20th Century Popular Culture is how a decaying industrial city in the Midwest somehow produced some of the most exciting, intelligent, and forward-thinking music of the '70s, with only a tiny handful of people being aware of what was happening at the time. Cleveland, Ohio may have been a factory town with blue-collar tastes, a decaying economic base, and a river that periodically caught on fire, but in abandoned lofts and dive bars, bands like Pere Ubu, the Electric Eels, X-X, and the Pagans were making music that upended the accepted tenets of rock & roll, often in ways the bands playing at CBGB in New York did not. Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City - Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West is an installment in Soul Jazz Records' series of compilations collecting key artifacts in the new music explosion of the '70s and early '80s, and while enough has been written about the Cleveland scene of the '70s that most of this is no longer secret history (Jon Savage's liner notes, while excellent, recycle plenty of quotes from his essential punk history England's Dreaming), this music hasn't lost its ability to excite or surprise almost four decades after much of this was recorded. The early Pere Ubu sides featured here ("Final Solution," "Heart of Darkness") are the most accomplished performances on the set, ambitious in aim and striking in execution, but there are plenty of other gems here, including the brutal guitar attack of the Electric Eels ("Splittery Splat"), the primal punk rock menace of the Pagans ("Dead End America"), the arty punk-informed attack of the Defnics ("51%"), the Velvet Underground-inspired wail of Mirrors ("Hands in My Pockets") and the Human Switchboard ("No!"), smart but fractured pre-new wave moments from the Jazz Destroyers ("Love Meant to Die") and Pressler-Morgan One Plus One ("You're Gonna Watch Me"), and the Patient Zero of Cleveland's proto-punk acts, Rocket from the Tombs, whose "Life Stinks" brings this album to a perfect close. At just 45 minutes, this collection could have been a lot longer and featured more material from these bands, but despite that, Extermination Nights in the Sixth City - Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West is an excellent introduction to a remarkable musical legacy from an unexpected place.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming