Chain & The Gang evoke so many sexy rock and roll bands (but mainly The Fall) that it’s hard to believe you haven’t heard them before, even though you think you have. For those of you familiar with their riotous blend of bass-heavy post-punk and filthy garage rock, well done you for being so well-listened.
Those of you unfamiliar with their sound would be advised to groove along to your local record vendor and seek out In Cool Blood and Down With Liberty…Up With Chains at your soonest convenience. Not only is Minimum Rock ‘N’ Roll their finest work, it’s also their funniest and most bodacious.
Close inspection reveals that the vocalist isn’t called Chain at all. His name is Ian Svenonius, who has been the leader of Weird War (with Neil Hagerty!), Nation Of Ulysses (produced by Ian McKaye!) and The Makeup (produced by Fugazi’s drummer Brendan Canty!). That, ladies and gentlemen, is rock ‘n’ roll pedigree. Svenonius’ commitment to anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist rhetoric has its own mention on Wikipedia – that should tell you exactly how many times he’s spun Grotesque (After The Gramme) and the likes.
To paraphrase Spinal Tap, nobody knows who they were or what they were doing, but goddamn it they sound good. Opener Devitalize rolls along on She’s Lost Control robotic shuffle (the beat is exactly the same) while an enormous bass guitar wiggles its ass in your face and a wailing guitar convulses over the top. John Doe and Exene’s languid punk vocals are the biggest reference points worth mentioning here – their delicious combination of masculine and feminine kept X’s workman-like punk interesting, and Svenonius’ combination with the delightful Katie Alice is potent on this number.
Never Been Properly Loved quivers along on a slinky, wobbling dub bass-line, supplemented by buzzsaw chords and shaker, while the superbly-named I’m A Choice (Not A Child) is a laid-back Phil Spector-esque hit of retro-pop. Stuck in a Box rounds out the oddball trifecta with a slice of wired weirdness, where a skewed melody and popping bass churn and roll around a toddling beat.
The Fall/Gang Of Four post-punk influence pops up again on next cut: Got To Have It Everyday bobs and weaves on an obese bass drive, caught between rickety guitar notes and bee-drone backing vocals. It becomes a mantra – “Got to have it everyday/that’s what the people say” is a mindworm. Fairy Dust is a choppy, groovy instrumental that leads nicely into Mum’s The Word, a dark, moody track with incisive lyrics and needle-sharp guitar riffing.
Of the remaining tracks, the title track’s dubby rock ‘n’ roll is a delightful cut, and the tiny-pupil-clenched-jaw rockabilly of closer Everything Worth Getting (Is Gone) is an amazing way to finish. The highlight of the record is Crime Don’t Pay – the off-kilter guitar rhythm and frankly absurd Eastern-sounding twanging amount to a sterling wonky-pop effort.
The entire album takes a couple of listens to fully digest – the immediacy of Minimum Rock N Roll entirely depends on your level of excitement about this peculiar type of post-punk. You know how Pavement’s jerky pop and The Rapture’s dance-punk were both influenced by Mark E Smith and Gang of Four’s iconoclastic records, but they don’t sound too similar? You can add Chain & The Gang to that list – they make boogie-able, twitchy rock and roll that grabs you by the balls (or equivalent) and draws you back time and again for a healthy dose of cynicism and juddering hip movements. Try Chain & The Gang on for size, they’re one of the most exciting acts around. John Peel would no doubt approve.