The Gun Club | Miami-Expanded Edition | (Blixa Sounds)
4 1/2 out of 5 stars
It’s hard to conceive that even fans of The Gun Club, a band that lasted, somewhat fitfully, from 1981 through 1994, were demanding an expanded, remastered reissue of the outfit’s Miami. After all, even though the Jeffrey Lee Pierce fronted country/blues/punks has acquired a dedicated cult audience, the group hasn’t experienced a sudden surge in interest. All the more unusual is that the 1982 set is reissued in time for the Christmas shopping season. A less joyful holiday present would be tough to imagine.
Regardless, Miami was arguably The Gun Club’s finest hour. Unfortunately it was marred by a tinny, compressed mix and further hamstrung by a lack of promotion from their label Animal, owned by Blondie’s Chris Stein (who also produced and contributed bongos to one track), which left it at the starting gate. This reissue bulks up the sound with a sympathetic and much improved sonic cleansing. A second disc of 18 demos is also added.
Those unfamiliar with the eccentric/edgy style of The Gun Club can get a taste of what frontman/founder/singer/songwriter and only consistent member Jeffrey Lee Pierce was aiming for on the dozen songs from the outfit’s sophomore disc. Combine punk, blues, rockabilly and swamp rock with Pierce’s instantly recognizable if admittedly acquired taste vocals that shifted from John Doe-styled tensely melodic to an eye-bugging, stir-the-dead yowl. The latter is on display in a twisted cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” that takes the already spooky original and shoves it into the fires of hell. Pierce injects his special brand of dark mojo that pushed The Gun Club’s music way past anything that could be considered commercial.
It’s that warbling high wire vocal and instrumental approach which leaves the listener off-balance, not knowing what comes next. It helps make the NYC recorded Miami such thrilling, powerful and occasionally unhinged listening. “I saw the light…my brain just burst,” howls Pierce on “A Devil in the Woods” a typical slice of his often creeped out and uncompromising Johnny Cash in purgatory style. The same goes for the shadowy country in “Mother of Earth” that adds guest pedal steel for an even more nightmarish fever dream album disc closer.
Even though the Club’s 1981 debut was titled The Fire of Love, that song wasn’t included on the track list. Rather it appears here as one of Miami’s shorter, most compact cuts which might even have made some ripples as a single on early 80s college radio. The first disc in the double package presents the original set with significantly upgraded audio. It hits with a sledgehammer as intense, and at times abrasive, as on first arrival 38 years ago.
A second platter featuring over an hour of demos is far better than expected. These aren’t shoddy bedroom cassette recordings, but rather professionally made early versions of every song on Miami, plus a few more. They show how serious Pierce was about his art, and how the music sounded in his head before he hit the studio. The mix is lopsided with guitars sometimes fighting to be heard over his upfront vocals, but these early versions are well worth hearing for a more complete understanding of Pierce’s idiosyncratic but ultimately timeless vision.