The Sonics – This Is The Sonics (Revox)
By Abe Beeson
I’ve been dreading writing this review. You see, I think the Tacoma legends The Sonics are one of the best and most important bands in history and I knew their first album in 49 years couldn’t possibly match their classic 60s output.
Spoiler alert, it doesn’t. But it comes closer than I expected.
If you don’t know about The Sonics, you can’t claim to know or understand the music of the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a quick tutorial for you: The Sonics were one of the many, MANY ultra-cool garage bands working in a raw style that produced “Louie Louie.” By far, The Sonics’ version of Washington State’s “Official Rock Song” is the most evil. With distorted guitars, primitive drums, wailing sax and the shredding voice of keys player Gerry Roslie, the band had great songs, but never hit the big time.
Growing up, it seemed Northwest music fans knew The Wailers, Paul Revere & The Raiders, maybe The Kingsmen, but The Sonics were forgotten by most. The late 80s/early 90s brought renewed attention, as bands like Mudhoney to Girl Trouble owed an obvious debt to The Sonics.
After years of rumors and aborted attempts, the reunion finally came in 2008 when the band played their first Seattle show in more than three decades to an adoring crowd at The Paramount. They’ve been playing a few shows a year to rowdy audiences around the world ever since.
After releasing an EP called 8 (4 new songs, 4 live classics) in 2010, it was only a matter of time before the world would have a new album from The Sonics. And here it is.
This Is The Sonics features original members Rob Lind on sax, Larry Parypa at the guitar and Roslie playing keys and singing, with Freddie Dennis (Kingsmen, Freddie & the Screamers) on bass and sharing lead vocals and the rock solid Dusty Watson (Dick Dale, Supersuckers, Surfaris) behind the drum kit.
How is it? It’s good. I mean, these cats are mostly in their 70s now and they’re rockin’ harder than most bands half their ages. The songs are good, but the attraction of the Sonics’ 60s music was the energy, the pure volume and ahead-of-its-time darkness, barely contained by the analog recording gear of the era. And, frankly, it was highly unlikely they could match the genius of their classic tunes. The creepy opening and dark mood of “The Witch,” the unhinged madness of “Strychnine,” the proto-Mark Arm-style screams of Roslie on “Psycho”… that stuff is untouchable.
All that said, This Is The Sonics does deliver. I suppose my expectations were low, but the sound – mono, live in the studio – is really terrific, and the songs are mostly strong.
“Bad Betty” (also on 8) is a solid garage rocker with Roslie’s vocals pushing deep into the red (he’s 71??). “Be a Woman” offers a bluesy Parypa guitar riff and tasty solo. Freddie’s singing on “Sugaree” is dynamite, with solid sax and piano solos. “Livin’ in Chaos” and the cover of “Leaving Here” are wonderfully dark. However, “I Got Your Number” seems a little silly, with the lyric referring to “your number, 666.” (I don’t know, are we back to enjoying that reference again?) “Save the Planet” is kinda fun because it’s got beer and girls, but is another less-than-stellar moment.
This is an album that will make some “best of” lists at the end of the year and nobody but nobody does it like The Sonics, but it’s not their best work. For one of the greatest bands in the history of the world, it couldn’t be. And there’s nothing wrong with that. – (6/10)
Abe Beeson has been heard hosting Evening Jazz weeknights on 88.5fm KPLU since ’98. You may have also heard him hosting The Live Room on 90.3fm KCMU (KEXP) from ’93 to ’02 and he occasionally picks up a fill-in shift when they’re desperate.
- Check out Sunny’s pictures of The Sonics last year at Macefield Music Festival