In the early 80s, rockabilly music had a real resurgence. While Brian Setzer and The Stray Cats represented the commercial side of things, a year or two from their breakthrough, they were just one of about a hundred upright bass slappin’, retro haired combos tapping into a musical past. Boz Boorer’s Polecats, The Meteors and many others were making noises and The Klub Foot club became a hive of activity for fans seeking out these high energy sounds. 1982 also saw the formation of The Long Tall Texans.
Despite line up changes and despite being longer and deeper into a career than most “niche” bands could ever hope to manage, Brighton’s premier rockabilly/psychobilly combo sound utterly invigorated on 2014’s ‘The Devil Made Us Do It’, their eighth full-length studio release. The fact that it follows an eight year hiatus might account for it’s freshness and general spark, but also, it’s an album of some variety. Yes, rockabilly is still the over-arching musical theme, but this time out The Texans haven’t been afraid to branch out.
Taking more from Aussies The Living End than the rawness of any bands ever likely to shower an audience in sweat at the Klub Foot, ‘I Hate Myself’ at first blends a retro sound with a chunky punky guitar riff. ‘Brother’ Matt Windler chugs with a thick tone and the riff comes with a pogo-ish stance; the bass pumps and a slightly croony vocal pulls it all together. With the increased use of drums, we hear an upright bass lurking, ready to break free. Come the chorus, the speed intensifies and harmonies flesh out the sound while Mark Carew’s double bass and Theo’s drums collide with the tightness of a unit that have played together for long enough to instinctively know what the other is thinking. The shift in tempo between verse and chorus works well, and while this track might be one of the Texans’ more commercial efforts, there’s a real heart to the performance. With a dirtier tone and a moody appeal that combines The Stray Cats’ ‘Storm The Embassy’, ‘Sex & Beer & Psychobilly’ presents one of the album’s best guitar tones as Matt plays in a hard and moody style, taking advantage of the slower pace to drop in a few twangs with ease. The meaty bass and slightly threatening air of this tune might dominate, but on the few bars between verses when the opportunity is taken to speed up, the rattling bass and hard snare is of the classic style.
For the more traditionalist fan, ‘Girlfriend’ should set a fire in the belly. The slapped bass comes across with a carefree abandon, abetted by a hard snare, which combined with a heavily reverbed guitar is of a timeless appeal. With the jaunty pace to aid, Carew’s vocals are assured and as he taps into the hook of this song, it quickly becomes clear that he’s on the losing end of a relationship. Having your girlfriend favour her girlfriend rarely sounded so good. ‘I Fell In Love With a Zombie’ mixes up rockabilly attitude and goofy fun; here, the sharp guitar sound is terrific in the way the 50s whammy sound cuts through a tapped bass and boom-chick-boom rollin’ rhythm. The chorus might sum up the kind of b-movie fun the early Misfits enjoyed, but the professionalism in the performance is second to none. A couple of great key changes and another gutsy vocal ensure the fairly predictable rock ‘n’ roll finds a place as an album highlight, while ‘Fire & Ice’ deals a hefty stomp from Theo throughout. During this rattling number, the Texans’ love of a shifting time signature is more apparent than ever. Not content with cranking the gears for a fast chorus, they even move between slow beats and relentless rockabilly riffing mid-verse. All band members really shine here: although the combination of Carew’s bass and Theo’s drum are set to stun, the gang vocals play a huge roll in making this four minute epic stay bouncy.
Instrumental cut ‘Taxi!’ makes a great feature of the guitar, coming across like a hybrid of the finest rockabilly and a Duane Eddy hit – in under two minutes, this tune really captures the unity of the musicians with no flab – while the subtle as bricks ‘What Part of Fuck Off Don’t You Understand?’ welcomes crowd participation. As always, though, it’s never a case of attitude over musical brilliance: throughout this number, Carew’s bass work is exemplary and his playing shows a sophistication the lyrics often don’t; Matt’s guitar work is classy and sharp and the ‘Mr. Sandman’ styled intro is a lovely touch. For long-time fans, the album even goes back to the band’s formative and raw days, with a pair of songs written by departed band friends Spider and Neal Post from a pre-Texan time. ‘I Used To Feel Funny’ is an almost ‘Monster Mash’ homage that allows Carew to adopt a great booming vocal style while the deep guitar chords add more weight than ever before, but for high energy unrelenting thrills, ‘Kamikaze Killer’ goes straight for the gut. Equalling ‘Taxi!’ for speed and tightness, these two minutes are a blur of slap bass and drums – on a par with the best Necromantix stuff – and the featured guitar solo has moments of splendour. Factor in a vocal performance where it’s even possible to hear Carew inhaling and gasping for the next line and it becomes a near-perfect example of the genre.
Tim Armstrong’s Hellcat label may have helped a resurgence in rockabilly sounds in the late twentieth century with bands like Tiger Army and the scarily intense Necromantix, but few hold a candle to The Long Tall Texans’ take on distinctly Stateside sounds. The thirteen tracks that make up ‘The Devil Made Us Do It’ shows that, despite being a little longer in the tooth than some, this band can still whip up a storm. It may not always be a record that’ll please the purists, but it has an intent to summon up some good times…and we all need some of those.