Monday, August 2, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #77

When most people think of Punk Rock and New Wave bands from Canada, the name that immediately springs to mind is Vancouver's legendary D.O.A. Those who know their stuff will also quickly cite The Viletones...and then the head-scratching starts.  It's a shame, too, because many great bands came to us from the Great White North: The Action, SNFU, The Dishrags, Forgotten Rebels, Dayglo Abortions, The Modernettes and Teenage Head are just a few.  But perhaps the best of the Canadian bands was The Diodes.

The Diodes came together in 1977, and in that same year headlined the opening bill at Canada's first Punk Rock club, Toronto's Crash 'n' Burn, with The Nerves opening for them.  Also that year, they released their self-titled debut album, which remains one of the hidden gems of the era.  From start to finish, the album crackles with energy.  Each cut shimmers with punky pop (poppy punk?) goodness, from the endearingly exuberant amateurism of cuts like "Blonde Fever," "Time Damage," and "Child Star" to the somewhat dated declarations of the New Wave ("Plastic Girls") to the well-meaning if ham-fisted metaphor for doomed relationships, "Tennis (Again)" ("'re never gonna get to Wimbeldon," the lyrics warn).  The two perfectly chosen covers of semi-forgotten '60s nuggets, The Cyrkle's "Red Rubber Ball" and Max Frost & The Troopers' "Shapes Of Things To Come," are not to be missed. Simply an essential album.

Released followed in 1979, with its lead single, the phenomenal "Tired of Waking Up Tired," appearing at the end of the previous year.  While not quite as strong as its predecessor, the record has some high spots that do reach the level of the debut, notably "Jenny's In A Sleep World" and "Madhouse."  "Red Rubber Ball" is repeated from the first LP, as the band's American label kept pushing the single in hopes of breaking through to the US market, but The Diodes were already showing signs of wear. 1980's Action/Reaction would be the band's final proper studio LP; by then, any hard edges the band may have once had were sanded smooth, and only vague hints of their early greatness remained.  A decent collection of outtakes and B-sides, Survivors, appeared in 1982, and that seemed to be the end of the line.

Sixteen years later, however, interest in The Diodes resulted in the release of the CD Tired Of Waking Up Tired: The Best Of The Diodes. Essentially a repackaging of the first two LPs, it finally gave The Diodes a voice in the CD age, and is highly recommended as an introduction to, and nearly complete discography of, this great band. 2007 saw the band reunite and begin to play the occasional live show, generating enough reaction to see to more Diodes releases this year: Time/Damage Live is a vinyl document of the band performing live in their heyday, circa 1978; Action/Reaction has already been made available on iTunes and the reissue CD is planned for later in 2010, making everything but Survivors officially available once again.

For this week's entry, I'm going with two of my favorites.  "Child Star," from the debut LP, tells the true story of Anissa Jones, who played Buffy on the TV show Family Affair and later died of a massive drug overdose at age 18.  The song's unforgettable chorus name-checks characters from the TV show ("Uncle Bill, Uncle Bill, I took some pills/Mr. French, Mr. French, I'm really tense").  "Tired Of Waking Up Tired," as noted before, is phenomenal, and may be the finest thing they ever recorded. Enjoy them both!