Saturday, March 15, 2008

RADIO BIRDMAN, The Essential Radio Birdman (1974-1978)(Sub Pop)
Spin, 2001

by Simon Reynolds

Send in the clones. Because originators are relatively scarce, and "secondary talents" often perform a useful function, filling in gaps left by the innovator's erratic, all-too-brief trajectory. That's my case-for-the-defense regarding the deeply derivative Radio Birdman. Formed in Sydney, Australia by Michigan native/exile Deniz Tek, the band were based with uncanny fidelity on the Stooges/MC5 proto-punk model. The name Radio Birdman comes from a line in the Stooges' "1970" and the songs teem with Detroit-specific references to Woodward Avenue and Strohs (Iggy & Co's favorite beer). "I-94," from the second album Living Eyes, is named after the highway that cuts through Michigan's industrial heartland, and songs like "Murder City Nights' take the Detroit shtick to the brink of schlock.

So what makes Birdman stand-out from the legion of Stooges-imitators cherished by Frenchmen in leather jeans? Singer Rob Younger's hoarse grunt was merely adequately Iggy-esque, and the rhythm section's rolling thunder is potent but never approaches the loose 'n' lethal swing of Funhouse. So really Radio Birdman's enduring cult is mostly down to Tek: his guitar's spare, stinging lead/rhythm hybrid, and his overall band-vision, which worked up the latent militarism in Stooges songs like "Search and Destroy" into fullblown deathwish rock, sorta Jim Morrison-meets-Sam-Peckinpah. Listen to this anthology--the first time Birdman's music's been properly released domestically--and you'll find song after song about self-immolation ("gonna burn alive", vows Iggy-tribute "Do the Pop") and going out in a blaze of glory. "Alone in the Endzone," for instance, is about a bomber pilot hurtling over "burning desert sands" on a mission that's turned kamikaze: his crew's dead, there's not enough fuel to make it back home, but he's deadset on dropping his payload.

Like Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, Birdman inhabit a male-only world of camaraderie in the face of death. Warrior-wannabes just looking to explode and vent all that pent-up masculine emotion, they regarded the fairer sex as an energy-sucking distraction: "Non-Stop Girls" declares "can't use non-stop girls/cos all my love has gone/To another world", while the suicidal "Smith & Wesson Blues" reckons you're never alone with a warm gun. There was a dodgy side to all this sado-machismo: Birdman named their tours things like Blitzkrieg and Aural Rape, and wore black shirts adorned with the band's Germanic-looking logo, prompting accusations of flirtation-with-fascism from some quarters. But combat rocks, and Deniz Tek's insane clone posse tapped into masculinity's dark heart, appealing to the part of you that watches Apocalypse Now for the ninth time.

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