Sunday, January 21, 2007

What would life be like if it never changed? Installment 5

More thoughts on my Top Ten Life-Changing Albums. Thanks to Eek for beginning the thread that led me to this list.

(Note: Italics indicate my initial response to Eek's challenge; the rest constitutes my further thoughts on the subject).

5. Cabretta, Mink DeVille. I still have never heard anything quite like this mixture of Spanish Harlem R&B and punk rock. Excellent production by the late Jack Nitzsche, and great guitar by the criminally unknown Louie X. Erlanger.

Mink DeVille, historically associated with the mid-70s New York punk scene, fused slashing Fender guitars, castanets, doo-wop harmonies and a black leather jacket ethos to fashion a sound that was punk mainly by dint of time and place. The band was hard to categorize, sort of Doc Pomus comes to the Lower East Side.

Willy DeVille (born William Borsey) was arguably the most talented vocalist to emerge from the scene, and the most genuinely soulful. He had an incredible band backing him up, with guitarist Louie X. Erlanger leading the charge. His stinging Telecaster leads cut like a rusty switchblade, adding counterpoint and a musical snarl to match DeVille's street-smart lyrics.

Cabretta was Mink DeVille's debut album, and remains their sadly forgotten masterpiece. It mixes straight ahead rockers ("One Way Street," "Gunslinger") with ballads ("Can't Do Without It," "Party Girls") and covers ("Little Girl," "Cadillac Walk"). The assemblage is surprisingly seamless, and producer Jack Nitzsche deserves a ton of credit not only for the gorgeous sound but the inspired sequencing.

At the heart of the disc are three quintessential DeVille compositions that represent the band's sound and attitude. "Venus of Avenue D" opens the album with a drone worthy of the Velvet Underground and develops into a medium tempo rocker with understated verses that build into raw-throated choruses. The heartbreaking "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl" openly displays sadness and yearning without ever sounding sappy. "Spanish Stroll," a minor hit that garnered radio play, works so successfully as a swaggering update to "Walk on the Wild Side," most people mistake it for an actual Lou Reed song.

It is, I think, swagger that best defines Mink DeVille in general, and Cabretta in particular. DeVille's sizable charisma informs every lyric, be it in the guise of a hoodlum ("Pistol whip you just for fun") or forlorn romantic ("She's a mixed up, shook up girl / got me so strung out I don't know what to do"). Replacing punk's anarchy and rebellion with a detached cool and vulnerability, Mink DeVille was always about the feeling, rather than fury.


Blogger EEK! said...

I must hear this record at my very earliest convenience!

9:06 AM  

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