You Should Already Own: Fire of Love by The Gun Club
By: Kyle Whaley
There is absolutely no question that The Gun Clubs' cardinal album Fire of Love should be mentioned in the same breath as The Velvet Underground & Nico and The Stooges in terms of genre-smashing innovation. Listening to this album you can practically hear the people being inspired into forming their own band. The list of musicians that cite this album as an influence is as long as my arm (which is quite long). One of its more vocal supporters is former White Stripes front man Jack White, who has said that these songs ought to be taught in schools, and I would have to agree. We gotta start setting these kids straight.
Fire of Love is forty minutes of music firing at every level - the striving uncompromising lyrics, the psychotic and frenetic arrangements, and phenomenal less-is-more production. Fire of Love is one of those albums that make you lament "They just don't make them like this anymore". It's tough to confine Fire of Love to any particular style - you can listen to it a thousand times and hear it differently each time. It's blues, rock, punk, new wave, country, rockabilly, psychobilly, cowpunk and garage rock all at the same time without turning into a cacophony of noise.
The Gun Club was lead by Jeffrey Lee Pearce. He wrote and arranged the songs and played the shit out them, his wild, manic voice cutting straight through each. Accompanying Pierce on guitar was Ward Dotsin, his style on this album is an impressionistic blend of blues and punk. The rhythm section, Rob Ritter on bass and Terry Graham on drums, was superb. It would be easy for Pearce and Dotsin's guitars to turn into a warbling incoherence without these two acting as the glue.
The album was co-produced by Chris D, he of The Flesh Eaters and Tito Larriva, he of The Plugz (among others). Their sparse approach to the production suits Pierce's music. Reminiscent of the best punk records, the soundscape is wide open and centers the chaos whirling around. I've always been a fan of records that sound like they've been recorded live off the floor, and this is no exception. There is so much atmosphere in each track you can smell the sweat tinged air of the recording studio.
Enough of the aggrandizing, let's get to the music:
"Sex Beat" introduces you to the band: simple but not simplistic guitars, a rock solid drumbeat and the brilliance of Pierce's lyrics. Welcome to The Gun Club, it's gonna be a great ride.
"Preaching The Blues" is a cover of a Robert Johnson song. Takes a blues song and mutates it into a completely new species - part tribute to a beloved genre and part rallying call.
"Promise Me" is up next and the album has again jumped genres. There is a cool Velvet Underground vibe that permeates through the song. The violin drone adds ambiance and anchors the song.
"She's Like Heroin To Me" is my favourite cut off of this album. It's pure dynamite. It's cool through and through. Chock full of jangly guitars and one hell of a great hook. If you're going to listen to a single track of this album, this is it.
"For the Love of Ivy" was co-written by Kid Congo Powers who went on the play in The Cramps, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and eventually on later Gun Club albums. The song is a dark revenge fantasy from the Deep South and sounds like a joint Son House/Television venture.
"Fire Spirit" is simply a great rock track. A song all about heading up a mountain and conjuring up some bad voodoo magic. Dr. John on a bad trip.
"Ghost of the Highway" a fantastic road song with a great slide guitar work. There aren't too many post-punk outfits that use a slide guitar this well. Outstanding vocals on this track, really haunting stuff.
"Jack On Fire"; lyrically it's a Nick Cave song, musically it is pure Gun Club. The song could seamlessly translate into a great film and it's about a nut job Creole boy named Jack and his world, which may or not exist outside of his mind.
You can't talk about "The Black Train" without talking about Terry Graham's drums. They share the limelight with Pierce and deservedly so, they march the song forward. I get a real Topper Headon vibe off of the drums on this track.
Next up is another cover of a Delta Blues legend: Tommy Johnson's version of "Cool Drink of Water". The song is airy, full of space - a great cover of a classic blues track without copy and pasting.
The last song is called, fittingly, "Goodbye Johnny". The guitars have a great 50's throwback vibe to them; if Dick Dale met up with Lou Reed and spent a night recording together this would have been the result. Perfect way to end an album.
Listening to the album is an experience not to be forgotten. It's like a carnival ride, a whirling dervish of guitars and a cacophony of wails, the only thing keeping you flinging out of the ride is the solid pounding of the rhythm section. A truly original album, wholly its own and never apologetic. It's insanity without being crazy, pure music.
The Gun Club caught lightning in a bottle with their first release. Their following releases took a stylistic turn away from what was established on Fire of Love, veering away from the bombastic to a more despondent groove. Sadly, Jeffrey Lee Pierce died of a brain hemorrhage in 1996 leaving behind an impressive legacy and an album you should already own.
Video: “She's Like Heroin To Me“ by The Gun Club