THE GUN CLUB is primarily remembered for their incendiary debut album, Fire of Love, a psychobilly/roots rock/punk classic that introduced the world to vocalist Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Their sophomore release, Miami, came out in 1982 on Blondie’s Chris Stein’s Animal Records label and has just been reissued by Blixa Sounds.
Continuing in the same vein as their introductory platter, Miami was, in many ways, the quintessential ’80s American indie rock release. With Ward Dotson’s twangy rhythm guitar leading the unadorned but solid bass and drums of Rob Ritter and Terry Graham, The Gun Club’s sound was at the root of two then upcoming indie rock camps: the twangy Americana guitar rock of R.E.M., Guadalcanal Diary, et. al., and the cowpunk/voodoo vibe of The Cramps, Tex & The Horseheads and the like. Leader/singer Pierce – “Elvis, Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop all rolled up into one” (says Dotson in a recent interview) – was a big fan of the blues and other American music but wasn’t exactly the greatest candidate for carrying the torch. At least, on paper. But in the studio and on stage, he conjured his influences into a compelling, raw, unschooled vocal style that would make you forget, if indeed you knew, that he was really a “guy that lives with his mom in Reseda” (Dotson again).
That first album, Fire of Love, was one of Slash Records’ earliest releases (on their Ruby subsidiary) and was a good seller for the label. But it wasn’t long before Pierce had burned a lot of bridges, both personal and professional, with his difficult personality and questionable antics. By the time they recorded Miami they had signed to a new record label that was backed by a larger label (Animal was distributed by Chrysalis Records). Unlike the crisp, raw sound of their debut, this album – produced by Stein – has a slightly muffled sound that doesn’t jump out of the speakers quite the way Fire of Love did. Still, its songs flicker and burn in a similar fashion. “Devil in the Woods” and “John Hardy” stand out as tunes that could’ve been on the Slash release, while opener “Carry Home” and the cover of CCR’s “Run Through the Jungle” are less psycho and closer to that generic college radio sound that many of us still have stuck somewhere in our heads. Overall, though, in hindsight Miami is just a notch less-great than its classic predecessor.
Blixa Sounds’ 2CD and 2LP reissues include the original Miami on disc one and that album’s demos on disc two. (The compact disc version adds an additional handful of songs demoed for Miami but eventually released on The Gun Club’s next album, The Las Vegas Story.) The CD package contains interesting liner notes, skeletal credits and only a few small photos (there is no actual booklet included in the six-panel digipak; I’m not sure if you get more in the 2LP configuration), but the sound is punchy despite the subtle high end. Regardless, it’s great to have Miami restored to availability after so many years of obscurity. We may not have Jeffrey Lee Pierce around anymore, but his band/spawn continues on. – Marsh Gooch
3/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 843, 2020)
[…] they have and it does. Despite being very won over by their sophomore release upon re-release (my review is here), it was and is their 1981 debut that really cemented Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s place in the L.A. punk […]