The Oblivians: Desperation – album review The Oblivians – Desperation (In The Red)

CD / LP / DL

Out Now

Memphis Garage punk legends The Oblivians release their first full length since 1997’s Play Nine Songs With Mr. Quintron.

The thoughtful verses in opener “I’ll Be Gone” straightaway sum up the simple mission statement of present day Oblivians:

“There aint no way to know how life will treat you, so let’s rock ‘n’ roll as we get old, we will before too long”.

This is the sound of a band not necessarily mellowing, but drawing on their experiences, good and bad, and it would be foolish of anyone who’s been around as long as they have not to…

These three, after all, spearheaded the resurgence and rise to prominence of the raw garage rock style which began in the early 2000’s, even if they never achieved the mainstream popularity of those they influenced (Jack White, The Strokes, The Hives), and they have certainly not been resting on their laurels in-between Oblivians recordings.

Greg Cartwright has been busy writing some deeply resonant pop under his acclaimed Reigning Sound banner, while Jack Oblivian (Yarber) made appearances in a number of noteworthy bands, including The Compulsive Gamblers alongside Cartwright.

Eric Friedl founded Goner Records in 1994, signing and releasing the very best of the new garage rock generation, and later launched a record store location in Memphis as well as the annual Gonerfest, a 3 day live event showcasing related bands on the label.

Desperation was recorded in under a week at Dan Auerbach’s Nashville studio, which reflects the band’s eagerness to create and add to their live repertoire, although they immediately expected a backlash.

Fans may recall the mixed reaction to their previous album with DIY organist Quintron, although to me that didn’t seem like a huge departure, given their background and predilection for bluesy and soulful, countrified jams. It makes even more sense when you consider the Southern rock ‘n’ roll heritage and gospel roots of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and scores of other genre innovators.

Although the material on Desperation may not be as immediately memorable or volatile as the raucous snarls of “And Then I Fucked Her”, it is at times possibly more valuable as an honest collection of solid, 12 bar boogies made under no pretense and with no ephemeral shock tactics deployed.

They don’t mimic their previous work, and their various independent accomplishments during the band’s recording hiatus very visibly brings a different dynamic to the table; although still lightly greased with a layer of grime, Cartwright’s melodic gifts inform British Invasion style stompers like “Em” and the title track “Desperation”, and they could be cuts from a Reigning Sound album.


Yarber’s “Little War Child” provides possibly the highlight of the album, the irresistible “ooh-oooh”s of the chorus conjuring the spirit of young courting couples in 1960’s dance halls, but with a bit of a rebellious edge.

Fast-paced chant along “Fire Detector” sounds like classic old school punk, and its repetitive, pogo inducing rhythm is instant no-frills fun.

Desperation may be more of a slow burner but there is also a lot of familiarity to the release, both in basic song structures and the band’s inspired cover song choices.

There’s a scuzzy, revved up version of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Loving Cup”, and later on, the piano accordion Zydeco of Stephanie McDee’s “Call the Police” is transformed into an irresistibly sexy party ramble full of sludgy guitar which positively struts with attitude. Meanwhile “Mama Guitar”, the swing classic by Andy Griffith, when served up Oblivians style, ends up channeling the great Lux Interior.

Generally you don’t improve through staying the same and remaining unaffected by life; there is pain and angst as well as fun, and we are all richer for coming through it and letting it shape who we are.

Oblivians know this, and for a group in its advancing years, they still sound fresher than a lot of the younger acts around, and prove the best strategy for agelessness in rock is looking forward while using the past, and just doing what you want.

Being smarter and wiser, with a preference for honesty and deeper meanings may put some people off, but these days it’s the most genuinely ‘punk’ thing you can do.

The Oblivians have a Facebook page here, and Jack Oblivian is also on Twitter.

All words by Carrie Quartly, you can read more of her writing on the site here.

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Lifelong music fan and avid gig-goer with bases in South East England and New York City. Spent formative years reared on punk, which taught me to never adopt a uniform (unless it looked really good with hand made badges and a stencil paint job on it). Love garage rock, bubblegum pop and psych, basically anything with heart that makes me want to sway and groove. Follow me on Twitter @Carrie_Quartly if you eat/sleep/breathe music and don't mind being grossed out occasionally.


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