Various Artists

Scratches and Needles: A Tribute to the Nils

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Scratches hits all the key spots: 1) The artist is a great one from years ago that most music fans could use exposure to. 2) Unlike most tribute LPs, you get the feeling that these bands are fans that truly love the songs they chose. The folks at Mag Wheel must have spun around in euphoria every time another hot version rolled in to their offices. Lastly, 3) instead of the usual tribute-LP suspects, like fattened regulars at a celebrity roast, the bands that make up Scratches are themselves lesser-knowns, and the taste and ability they show makes one want to investigate their own material! Disclaimer: I am on this CD, as drummer for Warship Grey -- our debut recording, in fact. But take that cut off, and 11 of the 12 other tracks inadvertently make up one of the best punkish records of the 1990s. That I am involved has no bearing on that assessment: only a plodding, snoresville, misconceived reinvention of "I Am the Wolf" by Fearless Freep is worthless, whereas Punchbuggy, Down By Law, and Rusty roar like cannon-shot, chug-like bullet trains, and hit perpetually soaring melodies like streaking comets. Whether somewhat known in underground circles, such as Doc Hopper and New Sweet Breath, or nobodies like Rise and Tarver, each plays and sings as if they couldn't wait to attack the tunes, with the required ability, dexterity, chops, soul, and fire of original punk to bring these songs back to life in newer, rawer, meaner settings. In two cases a band even betters the original: Flounger and Stand GT correct the misproduction of the Nils lone LP, while most everybody else heads for the three fantastic EPs that preceded it. Scratches is one whopping surprise. (

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