The Von Bondies
Pawn Shoppe Heart
hanks to the hire of Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison as chief producer, The Von Bondies’ much-touted major label debut comes wrapped in a dirt-free Nevermind-style sheen. Just as Butch Vig primed that obscure bunch of grunge also-rans for the top five; someone at Sire must expect The Von Bondies (or The New Band That Will Change Your Life Forever as the NME might put it) to captivate the hearts and wallets of a public currently demonstrating taste that runs closer to Terry Wogan than Terry Christian (not the best juxtaposition, but the only other Terrys I can think of are Nutkins and Waite).
Presumably to sell them back to the states as British media darlings, Pawn Shoppe Heart was released first in the UK, but it’s unclear if Sire were onto a good thing. Pawn Shoppe Heart has been in the shops for about a month, selling roughly 17,000 copies (this has no bearing on the music of course) and The VBs have encountered hefty column inches in every forest-killing rock rag going. But sadly, no one’s life has changed one iota, the album top ten is still filled with aural Temazepam and the Bondies are better known by the general populous as that band with the guy who got fucked up by Jack White (front row attendees at their recent British shows have reportedly been requesting “Seven Nation Army” and spouting phrases like “There is only one Jack White!”)
Which, all in all, is a shame, as Pawn Shoppe Heart is the type of thrillingly raucous, visceral, harsh, storming brand of balls-all-the-way-out rock familiar to anyone paying vaguely close mind to current Detroit rumblings. At times you begin to wonder if someone descended upon the city in the late nineties, contacted every guitar-whacking outfit lining its stages and ordered them to sound the same. Because whether they’re trading, varying, borrowing or stealing riffs from one another, working from the same pool of influences (admittedly the participants might be drinking from separate ends, but the water’s still pretty much Garage Rock, ancient Blues, Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues from the 50s and 60s) or just hell bent on creating the most deafening attacks of mania in three minutes or less (brevity is king!), this is a tight-knit scene that prides itself on the subtler side of individualism. Aware of the crippling homogeneity such scenesterism might offer, lead Bondie Jason Stollsteimer seems keen to draw a line in the sand.
So first off, Pawn Shoppe Heart has none of the muddy, rusty edges provided by one J. White esq. on debut Lack of Communication. It’s more contained, compressed, cleaner and occasionally, slightly colder than required. To the band’s credit, this only seems to increase their pummelling potential, provoking them into walloping, abusing and thrashing their amps harder than ever.
Still, like Nevermind—and it’s only on production that they’re being compared, so simmer down kiddies—it’s the songs that matter. And along with packaging the band as more than just another lot of garage rock revivalists, come some new curve balls. Okay, so they’re small, compact, golf-sized ones, but they’re curve balls all the same. “No Regrets” has the glittery stamp of T. Rex trudged all over its glam rock stomp, “Not That Social” comes off like some Bangles/Go-Gos-ish stormer thanks to the perfectly bored, dispassionate vocal from Carrie Smith and “Poison Ivy” respectably regurgitates every punk lead guitar line of note into a gnawing but too-familiar-to-be-killer combo riff.
Still, good as they are, nothing nears “C’mon C’mon” for undeniable, rip roaring, headfirst, bludgeoning brilliance. A perfect three-minute detonation of nimbly fast and quiet then loud then thundering ups and downs, it’s a relentless gust of uncontrollable excitement and a pitifully unheard/un-purchased/un-downloaded early single of the year nominee.
But the real star of Pawn Shoppe Heart is the cocky, attention-seeking, harrowing, trembling, deeply robust voice of Stollsteimer. The gall and conviction in his lungs saves even the less monumental moments, and in the pop scheme of things (they aren’t on SFTRI anymore after all), supplies a much-needed break from all the dreary, self-piteous, tediously whimsical moaners on daytime radio. A physical singer who projects from his gut, Stollsteimer’s surprisingly emotive as opposed to merely abrasive (which he does anyway), even when he’s roaring about broken friendships, bitter pasts or mangled relationships. A terminal star in waiting, that he already acts like one is part of the charm. No longer mere 3rd division sidekicks to their primary-coloured neighbours, The Von Bondies have shed all the expectations, restrictions and regulations of their ‘just another garage rock band’ status. The album The Strokes are too inhibited and The White Stripes too inimitable to make, Pawn Shoppe Heart is the work of a great band finding their steel-capped feet.
Reviewed by: Sunil Chauhan
Reviewed on: 2004-03-24