Hello friends, it’s Friday which means you can plug in your headphones and get ready for another stint in The Listening Booth. This week we dive into a duo of debut albums, one from 2019 and one from 1992, before I finish up by talking about King 810 who, if you haven’t heard, really like guns. Sound like fun? Well, read on.
It feels like we’ve been waiting for Puppy’s debut album for years. Actually, now I think about it, we have. Their first self-titled EP was released in 2015 which was followed by Vol. II (the one that really grabbed people’s attention) in 2016. The road to The GOAT has been a long one, but don’t worry, it’s been worth it.
You only have to listen to the opening two-punch of ‘Black Hole’ and ‘Vengeance’ to appreciate that. In fact, now I look at the track listing, you could make the argument that said run extends all the way to track six, the already well established ‘Entombed’. It’s a motherfucking hook-fest as Puppy come flying out with that blend of Ghost-like choruses, chunky riffs that Alice in Chains would be proud of and catchy melodies that wouldn’t feel out of place on the good Weezer albums. Sure, that’s a lot of stuff you’ve heard before, but how often have you heard it all merged together to create something this good?
If you were to be hyper-critical, you would point out that after that run of songs, the album does drop off a bit. The second half is lacking that instant classic feel. Listen to those words, though. Bashing something for not sounding like an instant classic isn’t exactly fair. Puppy’s problem is that they’ve set their own bar so high, they struggle to maintain that height. It’s also their debut album for fuck sake.
As someone who listens to the kind of music I listen to, you get used to the idea that bands you love aren’t going to be huge. They’re made for grotty little clubs. Puppy are not. If I were in charge of the world, they’d be the template for every musician looking to write catchy music. This shit could be played on major radio stations tomorrow, and people wouldn’t even realise that it doesn’t come from a world that they’re familiar with. Puppy should be the future, let’s help get them there.
It’s time for our weekly time travel to Seattle as this week we dive into 7 Year Bitch. If Malfunkshun represent the rock and roll of the Seattle sound, The U-Men the arty part and Blackouts the industrial, then 7 Year Bitch is the punk. It doesn’t take much of a listen to realise that this stuff would be more accurately placed alongside riot grrrl than it would grunge.
With that in mind, it probably won’t surprise anyone to know that Sick’Em has a feminist edge to it. Songs like ‘Dead Men Don’t Rape’ aren’t about daisies and rainbows. This is punk that wears its heart on its sleeve, sneering through tracks like ‘Chow Down’ with its declaration that “your momma should have chowed down, cuz now you’re a creep”. ‘In Lust You Trust’ even manages to turn the words of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ into an accusation.
All of which makes it such a shame that 7 Year Bitch’s story is tainted by tragedy. Sick’Em had to be delayed after the death of the band’s first guitarist, Stefanie Sargent. Then, between the release of this and their second album, Mia Zapata of The Gits (their close friends and mentors) was raped and strangled to death while walking home from the pub. Their the kind of moments that can’t be shrugged off.
Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a vibrant and alive punk rock record which is, sadly, still as thematically relevant today as it was back in 1992. On top of that, drummer Valerie Agnew would become one of the founders of Home Alive, an anti-violence non-profit (still going as a group of volunteers to this day) that works to teach self-defence. Great things can come out of horror, and I think it’s safe to put what 7 Year Bitch would go on to do in that category.
Remember when King 810 briefly became the band that everyone was talking about? Their debut album, Memoirs of a Murderer, saw them fired to the top of the metal world’s hot topic discussions as it generated praise and controversy in equal measure. Were these men from Flint Michigan the real deal? Or a tough background being packaged up in an attempt to appeal to the edgy?
Well, five years on the chatter is gone, and King 810 feel like an afterthought. On a purely personal level, I own both their previous albums, but can’t remember the last time I put one on. They are gathering dust. Which makes Suicide King feel like a big deal. These guys are in danger of vanishing, and if they are to prevent that, it’s time for something big.
Yet, sadly, I have to report that this ain’t it. Honestly, I think this album is a bit pants. Listening to it is like having toxic masculinity injected into your ears, and it was about a minute into the third track ‘Bang Guns’ (sample lyric: ‘bang guns, boy, bang, bang guns, boy’) that I realised it wasn’t for me. I know that these men from Flint Michigan have lived very different lives from my privileged upbringing, that place sounds awful, but it doesn’t change the fact that songs about firearms are not that interesting, even if you do try and sound like Nick Cave. David Gunn may believe himself the next poet laureate, but his words and delivery are uniformly shocking, and not in the thrilling sense of the word.
So, why am I talking about it? I generally use The Listening Booth to talk about good music, not to bash on the crap (my Twitter is where I do that). Well, because this album still fascinates me. It’s an insight into how the music industry has functioned for the last decade. How hype is used to thrust bands into people’s faces only to ditch them just a couple of albums later. King 810 never really got a chance to become the band we were promised they were. They went from dominating the pages of Metal Hammer to this album being released with barely a squeak. A couple of missteps has seen them discarded like yesterday’s news.
And having the press behind King 810 wouldn’t turn Suicide King into a great album (although a lot of people would be more convinced if someone told them it was good). However, I can’t help thinking that there is something there and that with the right shaping King 810 could have found a great album. Perhaps the perfect producer could have funnelled the anger that so clearly dominates their music, and created something incredible with it. After all, a metal band channelling Nick Cave is a lot more interesting than another one channelling Metallica. Sadly, I think the days of King 810 having the best people behind them are in the past.