X – ” Los Angeles “

Posted: March 10, 2021 in MUSIC
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Happy Anniversary to X’s debut studio album “Los Angeles”, originally released April 26th, 1980. Since its release in 1980, X’s debut album “Los Angeles” has rightfully gone on to be widely heralded as one of punk rock’s true classics.

The album announced to the rest of the world the arrival of the west coast punk explosion (which included such other acts as Black Flag, the Germs, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks, Fear, etc.). But X was more than just your average, ordinary punk band, as they weren’t afraid to inject rockabilly riffs and poetic lyrics into the punk rock stew, as exemplified throughout “Los Angeles”

It’s is complex and dazzling in its brutality. “Los Angeles” is one of those albums that will remain with me for the rest of my life. X Founded by bassist John Doe and guitar player Billy Zoom (two incredible punk names eclipsed only by drummer D.J. Bonebrake), the band quickly rose to prominence on the LA punk scene and attracted the attention of ex-Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek, who produced their debut album. Think of Exene Cervenka as a haunted doll. She is beautiful, in a fragile, sort of shabby way, but inside of her something other-worldly howls. She is the antithesis of what we think of when we think of an LA girl; a maiden and crone both, a debutante in a Stepford dress who rambles nonsense on street corners. She is innocence and madness all. 

In my head, I always forget that the album opens with “Your Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not” because Songs For a Future Film Noir opened instead with “Los Angeles.” But “Phone” takes place on the East Coast; all New York is a tow-away zone. You get all of the band’s sound, the surf-rock influence, Exene’s shattered-sidewalk vocals, Zoom’s relentless guitar work. From that moment on, the album will rattle and thrash with that same unmistakable sound. 

It makes sense, of course, that they would cover The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” with Manzarek at the helm; “Soul Kitchen” feels as though it was written with X in a future-mind.

Los Angeles is more Raymond Chandler than any knock-off pulp novel could be on its best day. The album is populated wall-to-wall with junkies and movie stars, rapists and punks and brutal hangovers. It is as gritty as an unswept floor and yet unapologetically poetic. Who else could write a line like “swallowing one light bulb after another / in the city of electric light?” It’s stunning prose made accessible by the scene it exists in; a guttural beauty howled out into the night. The album spawned some of the quartet’s best-known tracks, including Johnny Hit and Run Pauline, Nausea and The Unheard Music. Produced by Ray Mazarek (the Doors) in an attempt to capture the spirit of their infamous live performances, this ground-breaking studio debut is considered my many to be one of the most influential punk albums of all time.

And what is “Sex and Dying in High Society” but a long-lost noir about the bored and ugly lives of the wealthy? It’s The Long Goodbye set to a blistering guitar. It’s so noir, in fact, that the title track was used in the finale of The Shield—the show that helped kick the modern crime television revival into gear—playing over Vic Mackey’s radio in opening shots of the immortal “Family Meeting.”

And then there’s “Los Angeles.” “Los Angeles” is too raw to be the album opener. The fifth line has a racial epithet; a more earnest listener might have turned it off right there. But by the B-side, you’re already too deep inside to escape.  

The narrator of the song was supposedly inspired by Exene’s roommate Fay Hart, who, according to Marc Spitz and Brendan Mullen in their oral history of L.A. punk We Got The Neutron Bomb, made legendary punk photographer Jenny Lens cry by ranting about how Hitler was right. She later dated Steve Nieve of The Attractions. This is the opposite of a Fun Fact.

But like the city itself, there is no denying the song’s pull, the bone-splintering guitar—but because all dreams have a daybreak waiting on the other side. Some daybreaks are harder than others. Sometimes you wake up confused. Sometimes the clock you bought rings too loud or not at all.

In 1989, John Doe appeared in “Road House” as bartender Pat McGurn. This has nothing to do with Los Angeles. It’s just my favourite fun fact about X. Haunted dolls rarely do anything nice. They cause chaos. They start fires, they maim and kill.

Exene, like Morrissey, has given herself over to conspiracy theories and racist politics, an Isla Vista truther. Suddenly those epithets in the title track make sense, it was not a crazy woman singing them in character, they were coming from a ticking time bomb inside Exene herself, who painted a swastika on her bedroom wall, according to Spitz and Mullen, in their aforementioned We Got the Neutron Bomb.  

Los Angeles” at 40 stills sounds as raw and untethered as it ever has. It remains fresh and vibrant, at no time do you ever feel as though a carefully constructed front has been put up. They still tour, their new album “Alphabetland” was just released, with Zoom and Bonebrake returning. They’ve dabbled in Americana and alternative, they’ve fronted other bands, they’ve divorced and reunited. But nothing will ever have the same hunger and drive as “Los Angeles”.

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