The Star Spangles, Metro, London<br></br>Ministry, Astoria, London

Bubblegum hooks and scorching guitars? Don't mind if I do!
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The Independent Culture

"Yonder, a star! Its twinkle spangles my fundament, babe!" So rambled beat poet Gregory Corso in "My Wild Irish Arse", and so The Star Spangles, an emotional punk quartet from Central Islip, New York, got their name.

Polka dots, velvet lapels, long hair cut short and messed up, pale faces, lips that look like they've been smacked in the mouth - The Star Spangles look like the New York Dolls might have done if they were all Johnny Thunders (the fact that they are four first cousins helps their lookalike cohesion).

Their sound is equally hot on retro period detail. The Spangles are not alone in looking to the immediate post-punk era for inspiration, but - unlike the punk-funk faction and the angular experimentalists - they concentrate purely on New Wave's purest pop thrills: The Flaming Groovies, Eddie And The Hot Rods, Stiff Little Fingers, The Only Ones, Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, plus the inevitable Ramones.

The blistering single "Which Of The Two Of Us Is Gonna Burn This House Down?" was the first sign that this raucous retro bunch were something special, and the imminent album Bazooka proves it was no fluke. Throughout its 13 tracks of bubblegum hooks and scorching guitars, all of which are played in tonight's intimate showcase underneath the pavements of Oxford Street, they never waver from their live fast, quit your job, get your kicks any which way you can, party hard and die young aesthetic (exemplified by another single, "I Live For Speed").

Their cover of Johnny Thunders/ Wayne Kramer's "Crime Of The Century" inspires a stage invasion by a bunch of mates (and a stray Parkinson), but The Star Spangles need no external help in causing chaos, careering into each other with a carefree abandon which makes The Libertines look like Kraftwerk.

In 12 months' time, The Star Spangles will all be dead or in jail after murdering their girlfriends in The Chelsea Hotel. Catch them while you can - this high speed ride won't last forever.

I'd been warned by a friend that Al Jourgensen of Ministry now looks like Roy "Chubby" Brown (that's what happens when you kick the junk), and I could well believe it, but happily it turns out to be an exaggeration.

In fact, he's barely altered since I last gave a flying monkey's about Ministry: Jolly Roger bandanna hiding a male-pattern multitude of sins, black tresses, mirror shades for that Mad Max factor, plaited goatee, fag in mouth when he isn't swigging and gobbing Volvic stage-left, leather wrist cuffs, billowing hoodie, bondage jeans and biker boots, he's still the post-apocalyptic overlord he always fancied himself as being.

What has changed is my perception, not the reality. I no longer see Ministry's black-hearted nihilism as a valid response to the world. They still make an undeniably impressive, neck-snapping noise, like Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" played by some monstrous futuristic machine, and they spark a violent slam pit even among this ageing audience. But their legacy has tainted their own oeuvre. Ministry inadvertently created countless crappy nu- and goth-metal bands, and I suppose you can't hold them to account for that. Ministry were a gleaming pinnacle of their genre, but also a dead end. Follow them too far and you end up listening to Fear Factory, Bad Religion and Biohazard.

If you can put this out of your mind, the big, bouncy, almost pop riffage is still infectious, and performed with ruthless precision by the band's 2003 incarnation: a big-shorted refugee from Korn on rhythm, a big-haired escape from W.A.S.P. on lead (this, at least, is what they look like), a pointless saxophonist from the Jobseekers' office and a very pointful two drummers, plus long term bassist/ sidekick Paul Barker.

Ten years ago, Jourgensen's legendary microphone stand used to be a genuinely creepy stack of sun-bleached desert animal skulls. Now it's a naff Harley Davidson handlebar/ steel snake contraption, straight out of the props department for a cheap Channel Five horror serial. As much as anything else, you suspect it's partly there to hold Al upright. He walks away from it at one point, and I swear his voice carries on. There's something unintentionally (well, perhaps) ludicrous and camp about the whole thing, like an industrial Judas Priest.

Yes, they do show footage of H-bomb detonations, yes they do show decomposed corpses in boxes. Same as it ever was. And this, ultimately, is why I moved on. There's nowhere to go. What do you do when you've razed the earth? Ask Bush. Ask Blair. Just don't ask Al Jourgensen. He hasn't got a clue, and he's staying right where he is, clinging to his big metal snake.

s.price@independent.co.uk

The Star Spangles: Camden Palace, London NW1 (020 7387 0428), Tue

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