Indonesian Junk are one of those bands that, on the surface, have seemed to get better over time. Their self-titled debut album was a bit of a mess with rough production values. Hampered further by a sloppy vocal, it was the kind of record that would only ever find love among the most die-hard garage rock fans. Their second LP featured much sharper songs which truly showed a band with great promise and their third release (2018’s ‘Darkness Calling’), although essentially a stop-gap EP, demonstrated a world of sharp riffs and even sharper attitude. It resulting in a release that truly – and finally – showed Indonesian Junk to be a riff-heavy trio that could take on New York Dolls at their best. With 2019’s full length ‘Spiderbites’ more than keeping up momentum, it seemed as if Indonesian Junk had really hit their stride.
This fourth outing is both a collection filler and a decent overview of the Junk’s core sounds, rounding up tracks from a bunch of out of print singles and giving fans a few unreleased tunes to make it genuinely worthwhile. By kicking off with a cover of the Kiss classic ‘Come On And Love Me’ (also available on ‘Darkness Calling)’, the band show off their trashy, party spirit with ease. By opening this set with something that’ll surely be familiar to most rock fans, they’re also potentially able to reel in new listeners more easily. A cover of The Joneses’ ‘Pillbox’ completes a one-two punch with a barrage of fast, punky riffs and the kind of lead guitar that would’ve surely influenced the young Tommy Stinson. With Frontman Daniel James adopting his most effective sneer, it’s a perfect slab of garage punk.
However, for anyone who’s never heard the band before, this is in danger of being immediately offset by ‘Crimes’ (a single from 2015) that has such rough production values that the band sound as if they’ve been recorded through a wall while James overdubs a half-asleep drawling voice. Given time to adjust, the raucous rock ‘n’ roll riffs have just enough guts to win through and a repetitious hook is used simply and effectively, but for all but the biggest fan, it might just show Indonesian Junk in a little too much of a raw state. It’s certainly an unwelcome reminder of that debut album… Perversely, that single’s b-sides are vastly superior. ‘Last Night Alive’ captures the band tearing head first through two minutes of ferocious garage punk. A super-charged 60s riff is given a punky make over, and with a selection of gang vocal shouts and angry lead guitar work going all-out, it’s every reason why Indonesian Junk can be great. With everything falling apart via some sloppy applause, it really gets across the “live in one take” spirit that makes their chosen genre really thrive. Showing off their power pop chops, ‘Now That It’s Over’ comes loaded with a world of muted chords during the intro before exploding into a raw groove that approximates Indonesian Junk covering The Knack or Shoes. A fun listen, it straddles a fine line between having a retro charm and being genuinely raucous.
Winding the clock all the way back to 2010, ‘Nothin’ I Can Do’ is a near perfect garage rock/power pop hybrid with a great riff from 1979 wrapping itself around one of the biggest and most perfectly formed choruses in the Junk catalogue. With b-sides ‘I’m So Bored’ and ‘If He Knew’ resembling almost perfect New York Dolls pastiches – coming closest to the most perfect bits of the ‘Darkness Calling’ EP – you’d have to wonder how the debut album from 2016 turned out how it did. Indonesian Junk clearly had energy and talent right from their earliest days. Neither is immediately obvious on their first full length… It’s a funny world.
The double whammy of ‘In This City’ and ‘What Do You Want’ raises the stakes higher and with ‘In This City’ drawing from more punky influences and with the sheer energy coming at the expense of everything else, it appears to be a great example of the band’s live sound. Although ‘What Do You Want’ errs too much on the side of unfocused, a few plays start to uncover a decent song buried within the wanton trashiness. With a big hook and garage rock solo both taking centre stage, there’s a lot of retro charm…and what eventually shines through a particularly rough performance is something that sounds like the early Redd Kross covering a deep cut from the Kiss catalogue, somehow bringing us full circle with this compilations opening statement.
As for the previously unreleased cuts on the end of this disc, it’s fair to say that if Indonesian Junk haven’t won your affections so far, there’s not going to be any real surprise or redemption. For anyone that has enjoyed anything from any of the prior releases, there’s some final treasure awaiting with a trio of garage based tunes. The Daniel James penned ‘Since That Day’ is solid fare that pushes a great bass riff to the fore more than most, while a decent hard rock guitar sound takes the weight. With a fuzzy lead guitar that sounds as if it would be better suited to a stoner rock band, it branches out a little further than some Indonesian Junk tracks and it’s very enjoyable…at least Instrumentally speaking. It shows how James understands how something simple can be effective, but unfortunately it doesn’t fare so well during any of the vocal sections. James relies on far too much of an affected drawl, almost as if he never wants Indonesian Junk to be too broad in their appeal. As for the two covers, they both veer close to being absolute bangers, with roaring renditions of Slaughter & The Dogs’ ‘Situation’ (complete with a gloriously rough ‘n’ ready backing vocal) and a most unexpected cover of the Starz track ‘Outfit’, which exploits more of the Junk’s raw Cheap Trick tendencies. Although a relentless vocal drawl threatens to derail things, Daniel’s command of an overdriven guitar riff – especially one from the should-be legendary Richie Ranno – shows how you can’t keep a great tune down.
With a whole world of genuine rarities collected within its thirteen tracks, ‘A Life of Crimes’ is of immediate interest to anyone who has enjoyed Indonesian Junk previously. The three tracks from the ‘Nothin’ I Can Do’ single along with ‘In This City’ just about stand strongly enough to appeal to a first time listener. Although still carrying a “warts ‘n’ all” aesthetic at times, this feels like an important release in Indonesian Junk’s long history.