Mad for the Racket

The Racketeers

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The Racketeers Review

by Mark Deming

The notion of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and Damned founder Brian James forming a band is enough to warm the heart of most any aging rock & roll reprobate, but the good news is that their project, Mad for the Racket, actually has more going for it than a few interesting names. Of course, Kramer and James aren't the only recognizable folks onboard; ex-Guns 'n Roses bassist Duff McKagan plays on all 12 tracks, while Stuart Copeland of the Police, Clem Burke from Blondie, and Brock Avery of Kramer's solo band all take turns handling percussion duties. The Racketeers, the ad hoc group's first album, finds all parties involved in strong form; Kramer and James trade off on lead vocals and guitar solos, and Brother Wayne's contributions are certainly up to the high standards of his excellent albums for Epitaph, especially the manic "Prisoner of Hope," the dark and politically charged "Czar of Poisonville," and his musical tribute to CNN reporter Christiana Amanpour. Brian James' offerings aren't quite so strong or confident, but given the peaks and valleys of his career, The Racketeers finds him in very fine form; his songs rock with a tough, bluesy undercurrent, his lyrics are both streetwise and sardonically witty (lots of guys might sing about getting their car stolen, but James follows that up with: "I gotta take the bus downtown/ Aw, sh*t!," and you can be assured it makes all the difference), while his voice seems to have acquired the British equivalent of a Southern drawl, and the twang fits him like a glove. McKagan and the assorted drummers add up to a muscular, efficient rhythm section, and the ying and yang of Kramer and James works like a charm. Mad for the Racket's debut won't make you forget what any of these guys have done in the past, but it doesn't tarnish anyone's reputation, either, and if you ever dug anything on the prior resumé of the headliners, you'll certainly find something to like here.

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