Monday, November 28, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #138

Husband and wife Randy Stodola (guitar) and Dianne Chai (bass) first made noise in the L.A. Punk scene as two-thirds of The Alley Cats.  With drummer John McCarthy rounding out the trio, The Alley Cats issued their debut single, "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore," on the influential Dangerhouse label in 1978.  Playing a swampy style of garage punk that placed them somewhere along the spectrum between X and The Gun Club, The Alley Cats proved to be a popular live act.  Chai's exotic look and outstanding proficiency on bass was an obvious drawing card; she and Stodola shared lead vocal duties, a large part of the band's unique personality and appeal. That first single is probably the closest they ever got to capturing the reported energy of their live shows on any of their recordings, however, and over the years The Alley Cats have somewhat faded into history.

It would be three years until their first full length LP appeared.  After signing with indy label Time Coast, they released Nightmare City and its concurrent single, "Too Much Junk."  A decent-to-very-good album, it not only boasted the new single but several other excellent tracks ("Give Me A Little Pain," "Today," "One More Chance to Survive") and a snappy re-recording of "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore."  Although the album drags in a few places and Stodola's lazy enunciation comes off as somewhat affected at points (and somewhat grating at others), those bright spots make it a hidden gem worth digging up.  Nightmare City was eventually reissued on CD, but has been out of print for some time.

1982 saw The Alley Cats make another change in labels, this time landing on MCA for their follow-up album, Escape From The Planet Earth.  Despite receiving the typical major-label treatment (slick, sheeny production that sands off the rough edges and a few obvious bids at commercial radio airplay), the band's personality is still evident here.  Highlights include "Breath Of The Barfly," "Waiting For The Buzz," "Just An Alley Cat," and the fantastic title track.  The band pushed their envelope a bit on this record, and not everything works, but nonetheless it's an album worth searching for.

After a few year's hiatus, the trio returned with a brand new name.  Their ongoing game of label hopscotch continued as they found themselves back on Time Coast, but now rechristened as The Zarkons despite no change in line up or sound.  1985's Riders In The Long Black Parade treads similar sonic waters as Nightmare City, although not as successfully.  What sounded fresh in 1981 now seemed stale, and lukewarm production with vocals buried too deeply in the mix didn't help.  The high point of the album, Chai doing her best Grace Slick imitation on a cover of "White Rabbit," was somewhat underwhelming; the remainder of the record is not bad - just unnecessary.

Changing drummers and adding a fourth member, The Zarkons were back in 1988 with Between the Idea and the Reality...Falls the Shadow, about which the less said the better.  The band broke up soon after.

A "best of" compilation, 1979-1982, appeared in 2007, pulling ten tracks from the two Alley Cats albums and nothing from either Zarkons record (although inexplicably excluding undeniable classics like "Nothing Means Nothing," "Too Much Junk," or "Give Me A Little Pain").  The accompanying DVD with five video clips is a nice touch, however, and this CD remains the only in-print example of The Alley Cats' work.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here are two clips of the band performing live.  First up is "Too Much Junk," followed by the band's appearance in the must-see URGH! A Music War scorching through "Nothing Means Nothing Anymore."  Enjoy!

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