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If their later albums were more polished, X's first two albums were raw. Dripping with angst, seething with barely contained energy, musically tight, and lyrically clever. The first album, Los Angeles provided a rock anthem for the city that captures the energy of the streets much more than the sneering effort by Randy Newman. I like Randy Newman's stuff, but I still cringe a bit when I hear I Love L.A. blaring through the PA at the Forum. Not that I don't sometimes perceive L.A. as he casts it in his song, but both he and I know that there's more to the city than just the glossy sheen that he paints. Los Angeles goes beneath the sheen.
The second X Album, Wild Gift is just as raw and super-charged. I could have chosen to place either album in this spot on my list, so I chose the one with my favorite X song. If Los Angeles is an anthem for the city of LA, then We're Desperate could be considered the anthem for punks.
One of the all-time classic X songs, which they still play in concert is White Girl. It's kinda hypnotic, with its haunting guitar riff, Exene droning "she's blonde" or "nineteen" and the hook chorus, She's a white girl, but I'm living with a white girl. The story is once again the darker side of LA life
When I first heard Back to the Base, I thought he was singing "Man on the bus screamin' about the president". What he was really singing is "...screamin' about Presley." Understanding that made the next line more coherent:
I think the thing X has over other punk bands is the songwriting skills of John Doe. In the period they were making a name for themselves, there were a few good punk bands and many many bands who would get up and thrash a few chords on guitars and spit on the audience and scream some rubbish lyrics at the audience. Many of these even had something of a following. The longevity of X's popularity is due to the depth of their songs. I'm sure Exene contributed to this (she is credited as the co-writer of all the songs), but from the later songwriting of both artists, it's clear who contributed more.
In terms of performance, all four members of X contributed to the sound. John Doe's bass plaing and DJ Bonebrake's drumming are high energy, but always in control. Billy Zoom was always a rock, fixated on the stage and playing his searing rockabilly tinged leads. Exene can sing fine, and does so sometimes, but her screaming or wailing contributes as much to the band, and since they have a lead vocalist in John Doe, it's not as essential that she be purely melodic.
I still go to see new punk bands in LA (Buck is one of my current favorites), but none will ever quite measure up to X in their heyday. My understanding is that the company that owns the rights to the first two albums is currently paying X nothing on copies that it sells (which I'm sure are still quite numerous). Apparently, the band were a little naive about the contract they signed, and the record company basically owns the rights outright now, but it still seems unfair. For that reason, I'm almost reluctant to recommend buying the album since X won't benefit, but I know that after hearing this album (assuming you haven't already heard it), you'll want to buy all their albums, so they'll be compensated after all :-).
If you're interested, you can listen to samples of some of the songs here. (it's combined with their first album, Los Angeles, which was also excellent. Actually, the sample tracks they have are all from Los Angeles. If you really like it, you can even buy it there.
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