Various Artists: Tribute to Repo Man (American Laundromat)
Released four months back, this fantastic tribute to an amazing cult movie and soundtrack album has been on constant rotation on Ged Babey’s stereo – when he should have been reviewing it.
“Look at those assholes…Ord-in-ary people. I fuckin’ hate ‘em.”
‘Repo Man’, the 1984 movie, written and directed by Alex Cox (‘Sid and Nancy’, ‘Straight to Hell’, ‘Walker’) is arguably the best sci-fi, punk rock, comedy, crime caper, and satire of American society ever written. Not that there has really been that many films that fall into that category I guess.
It had a killer soundtrack, two dozen or more memorable, quotable lines, some great acting from Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez and was a cult favourite of anyone with an interest in US punk rock (along with Penelope Spheeris lesser punksploitation film ‘Suburbia’).
The use of dialogue in ‘Repo Man’ undoubtedly influenced Tarantino and the strange and intense Alex Cox never bettered the movie. His ‘Moviedrome’ series of films on BBC2 was essential viewing in the days before a million extra-terrestrial channels.
The Original Soundtrack album brought together the cream of the US hardcore underground; Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks and Suicidal Tendencies with relative unknowns Burning Sensation and Juicy Bananas, topped off with a absolute classic title track written for the film by Iggy Pop (and performed by his then band which featured Steve Jones and Clem Burke).
Initially I couldn’t really see the point of a tribute album, but was curious. In a couple of years it’ll be 30 years since the film came out and a whole new generation of punk-fans are gonna discover it, so why not? .
The big name stars of this album are; Amanda (Fucking) Palmer, Frank Black, Mike Watt (of Minutemen, firehose and reformed Stooges fame) and (cult American songwriter) Matthew Sweet.
The title track/theme song is performed by ‘Those Darlins’, a mostly female country punk quartet who’s 2011’s ‘Screws Get Loose’ album is well worth getting hold of. The song is one of Iggys finest lyrics; a surreal stream of consciousness list-song with some beautiful bizarre couplets. “I was a teenage dinosaur, stoned and obsolete…” Those Darlins nail it and make it their own. Its not a note-perfect version, just a bashed-out cover full of joie de’vivre and a Heartbreakers style swagger.
Polar Bear Club’s righteously kicking cover of ‘TV Party’, Black Flag’s goofiest much-loved anthem to stayin’-in is a fine, faithful performance. It’s actually better than the original in that its faster and better produced.
Suicidal Tendencies ‘Institutionalised’, re-worked in a jazzy Queen of Siam style by Amanda Palmer and The Grand Theft Orchestra is perfect. She’s a superb theatrical performer who throws herself into the role with gusto. Its better than the original and the best track on the album; One that you’ll return to time and time again. An absolutely classic song about the generation gap and Amerika (I always saw myself as the narrator, the mixed-up kid. Now I’m father to a 16-year-old son I’m the exasperated parent – which is scary).
New York Rivals pull off a sker-eeching cover of ‘Coup D’Etat’, one of Circle Jerks best songs whilst ‘El Clavo Y La Cruz’ by Black Francis and Spanish for Hitchhiking, as with the Plugz original is sung in Spanish, but is a bit of a pedestrian Los Lobos type twanger and the first lack lustre track on the LP.
‘Pablo Picasso’ by the Tellers is a cover of a cover. With a name like the Tellers they’ve gotta be Jonathan Richman fans right? But they totally re-work the song musically, which threw me at first, but after four or five listens it actually works really well.
‘Let’s Have A War’ is a real gem in US Punk history, by the wonderful Fear. Again performed with joyful enthusiasm by Mike Watt and The Secondmen, with keyboards instead of guitar and the lyrics just as ‘relevant’ and as un-PC as ever: “Lets Have a War! Give guns to the queers!”
A gloriously sleazy gutter-punk-junk version of ‘When The Shit Hits The Fan’ by the Suicide Dolls is a lethargically drawled pleasure. Matthew Sweet’s ‘Hombre Secreto’ is a pleasant run through but featherlight and adds nothing to the original, which is a shame.
Moses Coltrane narrates ‘Bad Man’ –a section of the film script- over a more rocky and less funky backing than the original. but its still utterly hilarious bullshit-talk from the Samuel L. Jackson type character played by Sy Richardson in the movie.
And sadly what should have brought the album to an epic grandiose climax (the instrumental ‘Reel Ten’, originally by the Plugz) is a synth-lead version of the Morricone style epic which soundtracks the final scene of the film. The only track which, even after a lot of listens, just cannot live up to the original.
Overall though, it’s a lovingly crafted tribute, an eminently worthwhile and fun re-run. As a bonus I’ve discovered the fabulous Those Darlins and its been confirmed that Amanda Palmer is an absolute goddesses when it comes to re-interpreting other peoples songs.
‘Repo Man’ is probably still my all-time-favourite-ever movie. The TV version which substituted flip and melon-farmer in place of the fucks and motherfuckers, still makes me laugh hysterically. There are lines from the script that I still use almost daily. I never say millionaires, it’s always “fuckin millionaires”, and when people ask me where I’m going I tend to always say, “Away from you”. On discovering a spillage, you guessed it, “Somebody pissing on the flo’ again?”
And I’m always waiting for an opportunity to get “Pernicious nonsense”, “Laugh away fuck-face”, or “It happens, people just explode. Natural causes” into everyday conversation.
If you’ve never seen Repo Man, treat yourself. Oh, and get a copy of this album.
Words by Ged Babey. More writing by Ged on Louder Than War can be found here.