Vinyl LP Review: X Discography (1980-83)

Aaron ConnAlbum Review, MusicLeave a Comment

X punk rock band
X punk rock band

X, pictured during the 1980s. Left to right: Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebrake, Exene Cervenka and John Doe.

Veteran LA punk rockers X are celebrating the 40th anniversary of their influential debut album Los Angeles. With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing, the band’s tour with the Violent Femmes has been postponed. With people having more down time than usual, the band decided to surprise release their new album Alphabetland five months early. While the new album is well worth checking out, there might be those fans who are already happy with the band’s first four albums. Sure, fans can listen to their own copies of the albums on CD or stream them online but there might be those who wish they still had their vinyl copies. Those people are in luck as Fat Possum Records currently have a deal on the band’s first four albums- a deal exclusive to X’s Bandcamp page.

X were formed around 1978. The band consisted of singer Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom, bassist John Doe and drummer DJ Bonebrake. Of the eight studio albums the band has released, many fans regard the band’s first four albums as their best work. Released from 1980 to 1983, these albums were all produced by Ray Manzarek of the Doors- who first saw the band at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go around the early 1980s. When no label would take them, X were eventually signed to indie label Slash Record- who released the band’s first two albums- after which the band signed with Elektra Records.

THE ALBUMS

X Los Angeles album coverLos Angeles (1980)
From top to bottom, Los Angeles is a visceral debut album. Produced by Ray Manzarek, he was able to capture the band’s angst on a 27 minute album. Looking at the album 40 years later, some of the topics present on the album are still issues today- rape (“Johny Hit and Run Pauline”), drugs (“Sugarlight”), racism (“Los Angeles”) and sex (“Sex and Dying in High Society). Manzarek even works in his signature organ riffs on rockers such as “Nausea” and “The World’s A Mess; It’s In My Kiss.” Speaking of the Doors, the band covers “Soul Kitchen” and make the song their own.  From its rawness to its gritty subject matters, this is an all around classic album.

Rating: 10/10


X Wild Gift album coverWild Gift (1981)

Released in 1981, the band’s sophomore effort is certainly no slump. Compared to the debut, Wild Gift is a slightly longer album with more songs. Whereas the debut was straight up punk rock, Wild Gift sees X broadening their sound a little bit. Examples include the ska flavored “Adult Books,” the hard rocking “Universal Corner” and the slightly new wave sounds of “White Girl.” The psychobilly influences are also present on this album- especially on “Beyond and Back” and “Back 2 the Base.” There’s  also some great punk rockers in the spirit of Los Angeles such as “We’re Desperate” and “When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch.” Overall, Wild Gift is a strong album.

Rating: 8/10

X Under the Big Black Sun album coverUnder the Big Black Sun (1982)
The band’s third album is yet another solid album. With a title like Under The Big Black Sun, some of the songs here have a surf rock vibe to them- including the joyous sounds of the title track and the heartbreaking “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes.” There’s even a few slower tunes in the form of  the doo wop ridden “Come Back to Me” and the alt-rock sounds of “The Have Nots.” However with X being a punk band, there’s no shortage of rockers on here. The album’s opener “The Hungry Wolf” and  the hard hitting “Because I Do” are both guitar heavy rockers. As a whole, Under the Big Black Sun is another good album from X.

Rating: 8/10


X More Fun in the New World album coverMore Fun in the New World (1983)

Of the band’s four albums produced by Ray Manzarek, this often seen has the lesser one of the bunch. While it does take a few listens to get into, More Fun in the New World is a still a good album. For this one, the band’s sound leaned more towards a rockabilly sound. This especially the case for songs such as “The New World” and “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts.” Most of the songs here have a southern twang to them- which might be off putting to some fans. Still, these are good songs- especially fast paced “Make the Music Go Bang,” the psychobilly frenzy of “Devil Doll” and drum dominated “I See Red.” While not the strongest of the first four, More Fun in the New World is no slouch.

Rating: 7/10

THE RECORDS AND PACKAGING

X More Fun in the New World labels

Side by side comparison of the original and new labels for More Fun in the New World.. Note how the original (left) is replicated on the new label (right)- sans the Elektra logo

All four records are faithfully reproduced with the original artwork. With the exception of Wild Gift, all of the albums have their lyric sheets- acting as the inner sleeve for the records. For whatever reason, Wild Gift doesn’t have its handwritten lyrics. Instead, the record is placed in a generic black inner sleeve- lined with plastic. Fat Possum stay true to the originals by replicating the center labels in the same style. For example, Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World have center labels that look very much like the labels Elektra used back in the day. However, the Fat Possum logo is in place of where the Elektra logo should be- which makes sense considering this is from Fat Possum. The same has been done for the albums released on Slash Records- in keeping the label colors the same but with the Fat Possum logo in place.

As far as the sound quality of the records, it’s very strong. These albums were always rough sounding and the vinyl captures that roughness. There are parts on particular songs that sound amazing. For example, any of the songs with Billy Zoom’s guitar work and DJ Bonebrake’s hard-hitting drum work- they sound splendid in analog. Take the opening of “The Hungry Wolf” for example- which sounds amazingly tight. Of the four albums played on the turntable, I found myself impressed with More Fun in the New World the most. While the album is heavy on the rockabilly sound, it’s still a well produced piece of work.

All four albums include a card with a URL and a password where you can obtain  high quality MP3 versions of the albums. Comparing them to the MP3 files from the 2001 Rhino reissues in Audacity, there’s more clarity to the new remaster- which are offered at a bitrate of 320 kbps. Still, part of me likes the roughness of the Rhino reissues. Though if one weren’t to compare these visually, they probably wouldn’t tell the difference between the two by ear. If anything, the free downloads offered have more clarity.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Overall, Fat Possum’s vinyl reissues of the first four X albums are well worth your time and money.  While not entirely faithful reproductions, these reissues come very close. Along with the albums, Bandcamp includes the 7 inch debut single by the band of “Adult Books/We’re Desperate” and a digital download of the Los Angeles album in MP3, FLAC and various other digital audio formats. At $65, this is a great deal for any X fan- though these fans should act quickly as this deal is limited to 500.

To purchase this set, please click here to visit the website.
While you’re there, feel free to check out the other merchandise offered on the band’s Bandcamp page.

For more information on X and the band’s music, visit their official website at www.xtheband.com

review Richard II

(Visited 55 times, 1 visits today)
Aaron ConnVinyl LP Review: X Discography (1980-83)