Saturday, December 18, 2021

File Under: Rock and Roll

The other night I pulled Lyres' 1984 debut album On Fyre off the shelf. I hadn't listened to it front to back in a while, and I was struck, yet again, by what a great, no-frills rock and roll album it is, a record that sounds a fresh and urgent now as it did when Reagan was President. The Lyres lineup here—Jeff Conolly (vocals/keyboards), Danny McCormack (guitar), Rock Coraccio (bass), and Paul Murphy (drums)—was a prime force in the mid-1980s, the lineup I remember fondly from long sweaty nights at several Washington D.C.-area clubs. Lumped in with the Neo Garage trend by many critics, Lyres stood out precisely because they ignored or otherwise avoided the silly 1960s trappings—the bowl haircuts, the Beatles boots, the affected Nuggets/Pebbles vocals, the fetishistic allegiance to period gear—that, ironically, instantly dated many of the other '60s-influenced bands of the time. At your first Lyres show, you'd be hard pressed to pick out members of the band from members of the audience, or the band's own load-in, load-out buddies. They were long-haired guys in jeans, boots, and leather jackets (underneath you might spy a paisley shirt, if it was the weekend). Connolly's infamous nickname "Monoman" originated from his fierce devotion to 1950s- and '60s-era production and mixing values, and to his formidable, like-spirited record collection, and On Fyre has its share of cover songs, yet when I'd go see Lyres at shows and listen to their records, the principle that stood out: surface stylings came last, what mattered were the songs and the spirit they evoked. Conolly's previous band DMZ tried to pull this off too, and were often successful, but that band's dual-guitar marriage of  '60s punk with 70's punk was also awkward at times. Stripped back to one guitar, Lyres were where Conolly found the permanent (if multi-membered) outfit for him to channel one period through another while creating something original in the loud process.

Conolly dried up as a songwriter after the 1980s, but not before he penned some the era's great rock and roll songs—"Help You, Ann," I Really Want You Right Now," and "Don't Give It Up Now," among them—songs that will last because they catch a sonic breeze that elevates, and transcends, time. Conolly's Vox Continental organ certainly echoes (mimics?) a long-gone era, but it's the only vivid reminder that this clutch of songs has its roots in a particular time in rock and roll history. Mostly, On Fyre puts the 1960s on deep background, the righteousness of the music renewing itself beyond its origin points, and with every spin happily shrugging off attempts at consigning it to label or categorizing it as flag-waving retrograde imitation.


A fantastic companion to On Fyre is Live 1983: Let's Have A Party, a recording of a WERS radio gig in Boston, released by Pryct in 1989. McCormack had been in the band for only a few months, and he plays white-hot here, his guitar recorded loud and in-your-face, distorted and in-the-red in spots; if this was the result of an inelegant live mix, than I'm all for such knob-twiddling casualness. Conolly's organ is comparatively mixed down, and so this performance mutes 60's obsessions (though it's born out by the many cover songs). The result's a primal and raw rock and roll record, its allegiance only to the moods the songs themselves create, not to the cultural background or time in history that the songs originated from. Along with On Fyre, it's a record that stands the test of time and the vagaries of fashion. I place them both among the great rock and roll albums of the 1980s, from any scene. Trends be damned.


Steve Coleman said...

Nicely put Joe. Content over surface every time. The casual dress may even have encouraged some to investigate further.

Joe Bonomo said...

Thanks, Steve. You may be right. Opposite of the Mod dress-right-or-be-banished ethos.