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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Obscure album spotlight

The Scruffs

Wanna Meet the Scruffs (1977)


In Memphis music history, the Scruffs are the other great rock band after Big Star, and in fact, Alex Chilton appeared alongside the band a few times in the bands short year history. However, they out do Big star in a few dubious instances; they were less popular and less appreciated during their time as the prolifically under-appreciated Big Star, and had to wait 20 years instead of just five for their last album to be released (until re-grouping and releasing an album last year). This was the only album released during The Scruffs lifetime (or initial lifetime) with Stephen Burns (writer/vocalist), David Branyan (guitars), and Zeph Pauls (drums and awesome name).

The band sounds like a cross between Johnny Thunders and Big Star, with Burns sounding like the missing link between Chilton and Paul Westerberg, and Branyan with some stellar guitar work that smoothly transitions from raw to technical (listen to what he does on I’ve Got A Way). There are plenty of New York punk-like influences at times (ie. Television, especially if you've heard Television's live sutff), though the song structures are as classic and fundamental as you can get, that doesn’t make them rudimentary. Check out songs like My Mind , Bedtime Stories or the masterful Tragedy for proof.

Like all the great power-pop bands the songs are about teenage anxiety, girls, cars, girls, and hanging out. But Burns is really believable and sincere in his delivery, while at the same time remaining playful enough not to come across too self-centered or brooding. In short, he gets teenage anxiety right, which is something that's surprisingly hard to do in rock music. And the band miraculously sounds influenced by Big Star while still sounding unique, and I think its not just due to some punk and British mod rock influences, but a sincere emotional urgency. They also, like Big Star, don’t sound at all dated by any real unfortunate timely music choices, like some of their contemporaries (forgiving an overwhelming synth part is a learned skill for lovers of late 70's power pop and new wave music, and that's not a problem here). This is pure, timeless rock and roll.
This is the great lost American Rock album.

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