The mighty Sonics are back!! This review comes from the Pitchfork website, April 3rd. Written by Jason Heller…
If garage rock was conceived in the ’60s as the primal sound of teenage boredom, frustration, and angst, what does it mean when men in their seventies attempt to play it? There’s probably a deep and worthy discussion to be had somewhere in there, but the Sonics don’t give a shit about that, nor should they. The Tacoma band’s new release This Is the Sonics is their first studio album of all-new material in 49 years, and that fact alone is staggering. What’s even more remarkable, though, is how one of garage rock’s most legendary bands has dared to test their legend by making a record that spits, snarls, drools, honks, wails, and screams as if it were 1966 all over again.
Granted, recording with Jim Diamond doesn’t hurt. The former Dirtbombs bassist and famed producer of the White Stripes’ self-titled debut spares no grime or fuzz. The album was recorded mono, live in the studio. “Bad Betty”, the most powerful original composition on the album, hints at the rock-appropriated folklore of Black Betty in its title while remaining gleefully ignorant of anything except how to pound a riff into the ground in execution. Vocalist/keyboardist Jerry Roslie sings of the wild, leather-clad woman who puts his own savagery to shame, the septeguenarian whooping and screeching like a tomcat in heat.
Roslie is joined by fellow founding members Larry Parypa on guitar and vocals and Rob Lind on saxophone and vocals; the lineup is rounded out by bassist Freddie Dennis (a veteran of the Kingsmen, one of the Sonics’ Pacific Northwest garage-rock brethren in the ’60s) and drummer Dusty Watson. Together they lock into a single-minded, almost monomaniacal unit, pulverizing numbers like “Be a Woman” and “Spend the Night” into lumps of distorted, house-wrecking lust. Roslie’s voice, though, is the star. Still steeped in the R&B of his youth, his corroded pipes—which produced godlike shrieks on ’60s Sonics classics like “Strychnine”, “The Witch”, and “Have Love Will Travel”—sound somehow rawer.
R&B informed the Sonics’ unhinged passion from the get-go, and This Is the Sonics pays proper homage to the group’s roots. Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover”—by way of Bo Diddley’s iconic version—is given a giddy workout, with Lind’s sax squawking nauseously over a jackhammer backbeat. Eddie Holland’s “Leaving Here” gets similar treatment; the fact that it’s one of garage rock’s most threadbare standards doesn’t keep the Sonics from putting a fresh coat of paint on it. The best cover on the album, though, is of Hank Ballard and the Midnighters’ “Look at Little Sister”, whose hoot-and-holler horniness is rendered simultaneously sleazy and boyish. Less successful is a rendition of The Kinks’ “The Hard Way”, which the Sonics rip through a little too quickly for the melody to survive intact.
No song on This Is the Sonics summarizes the band’s grizzled, miraculous resurrection like “Save the Planet”. In it, they thumb their noses at the hippie platitudes that helped render garage rock (briefly) extinct in the ’60s; Parypa’s bluesy, sneering riff is more of a taunt than a hook, and Roslie makes it crystal clear why he believes Earth should be preserved: “We have to save the planet / It’s the only one with beer!” King Khan, one of the Sonics’ most faithful spiritual offspring, couldn’t have put it better himself. The Sonics’ children are legion, and every generation of garage rockers owes them. Roslie and crew surely know this, but from the timeless sound of This Is the Sonics, they might just as well be oblivious to their legacy. Legacies are for the dead. The Sonics are alive and viciously well.