Imagine all those New York loser-punk bands from the 70s shooting up generous doses of meth instead of smack. They may well have sounded like The Heart Attacks, the band from Atlanta whose album Hellbound and Heartless was released in late 2006. These young hoodlums have the frantic energy and take-no-prisoners attitude of the best 90s high-speed garage punk bands, but they’ve also got something that those bands didn’t have: glamour – and it’s effortless glamour with a dirty edge that they serve in bucketloads. Hellbound and Heartless merges the best elements of East Coast glitter punk with a handful of sleaze-rock riffs from the 80s, and then puts the pedal to the metal.
It’s not really their debut album, nor does it contain exclusively new material. Five of the twelve tracks are amped-up versions of songs from their self-produced Heart and Scissor Killers CD of 2005. Having now been signed up by Hellcat and somewhat downplaying the existence of that first album, Hellbound and Heartless is, in a way, their new and improved debut.
But who minds a little bit of history being rewritten if the results are this good? They’ve dropped a couple of pedestrian punk numbers and replaced them with tunes that see them heading in a more glammed up direction, with more real rock and roll swagger than before. Their Credence Clearwater Revival cover, Travellin’ Band, demonstrates how to effectively convert a middle-of-the-road bar rocker into an impassioned, brash punk rock and roll mofo. The catchy Eyes proves the Heart Attacks are no strangers to classic 60s pop songwriting, which has always been a core element of the best glitter punk. Then there’s the title track that resembles Johnny Thunders’s acoustic junkie ballads, and to top it all of, a heartbroken duet with the one and only Joan Jett!
On the previous album, the grand City Sickness evoked a Lies era Guns N’ Roses romanticism, with its melodically sung introduction and bluesy guitar chords. Shame it’s now marred by a tuneless shout and an unnecessary vocal effect, which makes the new version vastly inferior. Otherwise, the album great fun, being all about attitude, venom, and reckless teenage rampage. And of course, heaps of hair, which inevitably led some reviewers to liken the band to Motley Crue, the first thing a clueless journalist can think of. Some humourless folks also criticised them for playing old-school rock ‘n’ roll with what was seen as little variety.
It’s true, you won’t hear mellow indie tunes here, neither will you find the facsimile post-punk/no wave sounds that everybody and their trendy dog have been covering up their non-existent songwriting skills with in the past few years. But then, the Ramones’ debut wasn’t exactly the height of eclecticism, nor was Never Mind The Bollocks. The songs are what they are and don’t pretend otherwise: raw, bare-boned, well-written, and in your face. Most importantly, Hellbound and Heartless has soul. And if you’ve still got a problem with that, write your complaint on a piece of paper and put it in a hat. The Heart Attacks, meanwhile, don’t give a damn about your pathetic little opinion. And if they don’t implode under their too much too soon lifestyle, you will hear a lot more about them this year.