The Oblivians packed a lot into their initial five-year run, even if their work went largely unheralded outside of the sludgy, garage punk scene they helped cultivate in their home base of Memphis. But now, close to 15 years after their split, the trio’s trenchant, lo-fi brand of gutter punk has found the warm embrace of a new generation of fans, thanks in no small part to Jay Reatard, Ty Segall, and others who have helped carry their ugly torch.
That said, the timing couldn’t be better for an Oblivians reunion and a new record to boot. And while much has changed since 1998, you wouldn’t be able to tell by Desperation, which finds the old gang of Greg Cartwright, Jack Yarber, and Eric Friedl as possessed by punk, blues, and early American rock and roll as ever. With all but two of the record’s 14 tracks dipping well below the three-minute mark, Desperation is a lean slab of punk precision, peppered with crudely constructed odes to nights spent in police cruisers (“Woke Up in A Police Car”), “Pinball Kings”, and other delightful bouts of sophomoric idiocy. From the rugged boogie rock of “Loving Cup” to the loose, barroom blues of “Back Street Hangout”, it’s not hard to see where the Black Keys, White Stripes, and other graduates of garage rock’s new wave got their cues.
Whether the record holds up to fan favorites like Soul Food and Personal Favorites is simply a matter of taster’s choice, but what’s inarguable is that The Oblivians haven’t lost their sense of boorish fun. Despite the layoff, Desperation is the work of a band that still knows a few things about rock ‘n’ roll stripped of pretense.
Essential Tracks: “Loving Cup”, “Pinball King”, and “Woke Up In A Police Car”