American Death Ray

Smash Radio Hits (2nd LP)

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The sophomore release from American Death Ray (aka Viva L'American Death Ray Music) may be dressed up in a Sympathy for the Record Industry wrapper, but don't expect to hear any minimalist aggro-blues-rock caterwauling here -- it's all about glamour, or glamour in a dingy, rock & roll kind of way. Fronted by former '68 Comeback sideman Nick Diablo (now sporting the surname Ray), American Death Ray may, unfortunately, be one of those fantastically underrated bands doomed to toil in obscurity only to be rediscovered and deified by socially inept record clerks ten years after they had broken up. (It would be a damn shame if this turns out to be the case, especially while color-coordinated one-trick ponies are hogging the limelight.) In fact, the cover image of a girl grinding her stiletto through a bloody radio may be an indication of the band's opinion of the current state of the industry. If Lou Reed had spent his youth writing raucous, technicolor teenage hip-shake anthems instead of gray love songs to heroin, the result might have sounded like American Death Ray. It's that good. While Memphis rock seems to owe a great deal to comeback comrades like the Oblivians, the Compulsive Gamblers, and the Gibson Bros. (who mixed bits of blues and punk to apocalyptic sonic effect), American Death Ray owes more to glitzy '60s and '70s icons like the Velvet Underground, David Bowie, and T. Rex, but with a healthy amount of Stooges damage, as well. Sexy saxophones and humming organs bop along at an irresistibly danceable pace as Diablo rattles off his lyrics in a slightly bratty, coolly unconcerned Lou Reed cadence. American Death Ray waves the sequined banner of glam rock, but its gritty Memphis pedigree seeps through enough to keep the edges rough and the rhythm dirty. Fast-paced numbers like "Miss America (What Goes On?)" and "Do the Math Jim" are wild standouts. "Do the Switch" harkens back to the days when song lyrics taught listeners the moves to new dances, while "Arms So Long" is the sort of torchy slow song you'd be apt to expect from Greg Cartwright/the Oblivians (at least in his more ragged pre-Reigning Sound days). This disc is recommended for fans of everything from Bowie and the Clash to Hot Hot Heat and the Bassholes. Put on your dancin' shoes, kids.

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