MONKS: Five Upstart Americans: CD

Nov 23, 2009

Ninety-nine out of a hundred times when I hear some musician say in an interview that some set of demos is better than the album, I tend to believe it, as much as anything because of the lure of the untouchable: I can’t get this, therefore it must be better than what I can get.  I think there’s something seriously wrong with me.  But anyway, that’s not your problem (unless of course it is), and this is a record review, and the Monks’ demos album, “Five Upstart Americans,” rivals their only pukka release, “Black Monk Time,” for prepunk insanity and harsh ‘60s pop-rock that’s fairly indescribable, but imagine a cross between the Troggs and the Stooges and the Kingsmen and, um, the early Clash, I guess.  Now think funnier.  I already knew I’d like this since it’s the Monks and “Black Monk Time” kills, but the pleasing surprise was that the versions of the songs are actually significantly different than the originally released versions, ‘cause often when you actually hear the “demos that were supposedly better than the album,” they just sound like lower-fi, unfinished weaker versions.  Not the case here: this album actually presents an earlier, alternate version of the Monks, effectively an unreleased first chapter to “Black Monk Time,” which tells their musical journey from the middle (the original BMT album) to the end (the compromised, half-Monkmusik/half-pop post-LP singles).  Here you have the beginning in the Five Torquays’ pre-Monks single and the demos that comprise the bulk of the album, recorded (as most demos are) in an attempt to get a contract.  I suppose the reunion live album which I have yet to purchase is the postscript, to stretch this tortured analogy to the limit.  I’m pleased this disc won’t just be a collectors’ curiosity on the shelf for research and completism purposes, but is as likely to get stuck in the player as the “properly-released” album.  And oh yeah, I paid for this album too, which proves I’m not just a spoiled music critic, right?  No, it does nothing of the kind, and it’s patently obvious that musically I’m as spoiled as they come without actually making any money.  Anyway, you should buy this album too. 

 –guest (Omplatten)