Poison Idea: Kings of Punk (Southern Lord)
Poison Ideas’s hardcore punk two fingers in the air classic is reissue and Louder Than War’s Nathan Brown relistens.
Poison Idea were a heavyweight of the US punk/hardcore scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, somewhat less so with the demise of Pig Champion, their supersized – in every way conceivable – guitarist. This is arguably the best album that the Portland, Oregon outfit released and that argument continues between punk rockers on a frequent basis. Regardless of which they think deserve the top slot, most will concede that this one is in the top ranking, usually alongside Feel The Darkness and Record Collectors are Pretentious Arseholes (definitely the best LP title).
Reviewing an LP that has been a staple of my musical diet was always going to be interesting. This reissue has been remastered by Jack Control (of World Burns To Death, Severed Head of State and Mind Control records) but it still sound largely the same to me. There was nothing that jumped out at me as different and even when I compared this new version to the one I had, volume seemed to be the main factor. If ever there was a band that deserved the Play Loud tag that used to appear on some punk record labels, Poison Idea were it. I think the fact that there are no discernible changes is testament to the quality of the original recording.
Coming at it afresh, it is still really hard to believe that this came out in 1986. At the time the cover was the first thing that grabbed you. Jerry A carving the title of the record into his belly with a utility knife in a tribute to Sid’s “Gimme a Fix” was a shocking image back in those pre-internet days. How to describe Poison Idea to the uninitiated? Take the Stooges and the MC5 as if played by Discharge, mix it up with the speed of early Black Flag and Bad Brains, then add a bit of Motorhead and you’re beginning to get there. One thing you will note is that all of these comparisons had full on attitude, and that is something PI bristled with.
Kicking off with a riff that has been replicated ad infinitum ever since, this album confronts the listener: it’s as if singer Jerry A is grabbing you by the throat and you are having to wipe the spit from your face frantic drumming, chunky bass lines, and guitar antics that put most heavy metal solo merchants to shame. There are so many great tunes on this record that it is hard to pick a particular stand out track, and there is variety in the songs. Some are very rhythmic, some straight out thrashy hardcore and every now and then you get the rock-out guitar indulgence.
Lyrically they cover classic ground: being a rule breaking punk rocker, introspection about personality defects, and tackling those great American institutions of religion and right wing nutcases. In case any right wing boneheads who picked up the record were in any doubt about PI’s view on the matter they make it clear during the intro to Ugly American announcing “Listen Nazi, Never Again”.
Southern Lord have turned one LP into a “Bloated Edition” 42 track, 2 CD, bumper set with the inclusion of 3 live sets recorded between 1984 and 1986 (which means you also get an inkling of how good tracks from Record Collectors are Pretentious Bastards are). They have also included never before seen photos and the obligatory liner notes.
Live recordings are always a hit and miss affair and I think there has to be a good reason for their release. Poison Idea are a band who weren’t let down by their studio output so a live recording is unlikely to give you a better idea of how they truly sound (the logic behind the Ramones It’s Alive), but what these give you is a flavour of how obnoxious Jerry A can be when he has the mic in his hand. Two Fingers In The Air Punk Rock! They come from the tradition of the band antagonising and offending the audience wherever possible, including their own take on Jail House Rock explicitly about the sex lives of prisoners. After one listen, I wouldn’t personally bother with the live tracks as Poison Idea should be heard at their best, which is their studio recordings.
If you haven’t heard Poison Idea before, Kings of Punk is not a bad place to start. You can get it direct from Southern Lord.
Two Fingers in the Air salute from Nathan Brown. You can read more from him here