Sunday, July 22, 2007

MX-80 SOUND - Out Of The Tunnel LP (Ralph/1980)

I guess this guy probably figures he's the utmost authority on the genius that is MX-80, and that may be true since he has been tooting their horn on paper for over 20 years, but it certainly won't bar me from joining a chorus of approval in regards to their wares.
I have a long, sordid history in my fandom for the band. They first entered my radar in 1991 when they were cover stars on a then-current issue of Forced Exposure magazine. I moaned to a friend at the time - hey, I was 19, OK? - that FE had lost the plot putting such unknown-to-me non-entities on the cover, when they could (and should!) be putting the likes of, err, Helios Creed or Kramer front and centre on the news-stands. Well, somewhere between the years 1991 and '95, something happened, as I wound up placing this very LP in a Top 10 Desert Island Discs article I penned mid-decade for Year Zero fanzine. For some reason I had a change of heart, fluked scoring cheap secondhand vinyl copies of their Hard Attack, Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control albums 'round '92 and from there the obsession grew.

I've been playing this LP non-stop the last week, the first time I've given it a flogging since some time back in the '90s (much like my experiences w/ the Stooges and Miles Davis, I ran MX-80 so heavily into the ground at the time that they remained for a very long time a band I didn't wish to reaquaint myself with), and it certainly stands alone as a one-of-a-kind disc possessed w/ a unique vision and a sound certainly no-one else at the time had. Much has been made about the supposed "heavy metal" nature of MX-80 at the dawn of the '80s, but there's no denying it: if you were to typecast any band under the sun as "art-metal", you'd make it MX-80. Or perhaps Voivod, whom MX-80 are/were big fans of (see that FE interview for proof), but that's another story.

1977's Hard Attack, somehow released on the British wing of Island Records (coz their New Wave-friendly A & R guy dug MX-80's self-released debut EP and was looking for "another Devo" Stateside), suffered a mighty strange mix which has never really been taken care of in subsequent CD reissues; it remains w/ the vocals up way too high and the rhythm section buried under a mound of guitar slop. I dig it OK, though the real goods remain their two Ralph LPs from 1980 and '81 - Out Of The Tunnel and Crowd Control - respectively. Out Of The Tunnel is a compelling mixture of Rich Stim's deadpan, Lou Reed-esque vocal philosophising, the best post-Beefheart rhythm section at the time not known as Watt/Hurley and brutal, metallic guitar attacks which, frankly, wouldn't sound out of place on an early Metallica disc.

I'm not sure I'd still place Out Of The Tunnel in my top 10, though it was in my top 50 which I listed a while back and will probably remain there until I drop dead. Along w/ Crowd Control, it was something I taped onto cassette to take to friends' places back in the early/mid '90s for many evenings of booze/music-fuelled shenanigans, and along the way I managed to convert many, often singing along to the zombie-esque chorus on "I Walk Among Them" or shaking our grunge-length hair to the opening guitar crunch in "Someday You'll Be King", a magnificent, Ginn-like blend of post-punk choppiness and metallic prowess.

MX-80 sunk from view for a number of years after Crowd Control, though have been more or less active again since the late '80s. They've got a web site here (where you'll read the sad news that their long-time drummer, Dave Mahoney, passed away last year), they're still playing, recording and releasing music, and indeed there's a swag of post-'81 recordings from the band which are well worth searching out, but... you know where I'm heading here. Much like their fellow Ralph Records-associated oddballs in Chrome, it's their second and third LPs you really need, and if you're at all into the kind of rock music I like to consider the absolute pinnacle of human audio achievement - Stooges, Pere Ubu, Black Flag, Captain Beefheart - then do not for a second consider Out Of The Tunnel to be a superfluous purchase. Readers, it remains goddamn essential.


Anonymous said...

SWA were funnier.

Mark M said...

Dave -

Great stuff. You share a common interest with a lot of bands we enjoy.

Have you ever considered writing for a full-blown independent rock zine? We need to add a writer to handle some reviews at

Email me at if you'd be interested at all.

Either way - great stuff!

Mark Marchman

noisejoke said...

Here here! And hear, yes! Yup, Mr. Dave - Stooges, Flag, Ubu and the great MX80. Personally, I never got the Metal mentions and I must distinctly disagree with your evocations of Metallica (I suggest you A/B both bands and think again). Ok, Voivoid's Piggy certainly employed schizzed chords similar to Bruce's. But, still, semantically the idea of MX80 belonging to any genre other than "free thinking rock" is a disservice. I also suggest you enjoy them chronologically and note their movement from 1/3 Capt Beef and 2/3 Zappa towards less notes, more grind (especially on Crowd Control). They've had a couple bum releases, and I must admit I ultimately could do without Stim's "singing" besides what's on Out of the Tunnel, but ultimately there was and is nothing like them and what they is I think is the most-ut.

RIP Dave Mahoney

Dave said...

Noisejoke: good point, but if I said "free-thinking rock", I still doubt most people would have any idea as to what MX-80 really sounded like. I use(d) the term "metal" coz it fits them like a glove! Listen to those riffs! Total proto-speed metal, if ever there was. There's a couple of bum releases in there (I haven't kept up the last few years), though I think that some of the band's early/mid '90s releases were quite fine.