Dirty. That’s where it begins and ends with San Luis Obispo’s latest punk rock sensation, Magazine Dirty. They’re loud, fast, loose and especially dirty, if the amount of time singer Curtis Campbell spends writhing around on stage is any indication. The brainchild of SLO-town’s own Mad Dr. Reid Cain and his flame-haired, leather-clad better-half Hayley Thomas (she plays lead guitar, natch), Magazine Dirty is held together by Greg Cherry on bass and Chad Nichol on drums, with the irrepressible force of nature that is Dirty Curtis Campbell “shaking and screaming” at the microphone, equal parts unchecked anguish and maniacal glee. To see them live is to get full experience, but in the meantime, between shows, they’ve got a new CD out to keep us all sated, pumped and feeling dirty.
There was a time when punk was rich with bands like Magazine Dirty, where the click-click-click of the drummer’s sticks got the songs started, a loud, shouted “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!!!” count-off let you know something big was about to happen and, if you paid enough attention and jumped on in, you could most likely be a part of it. The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Runaways...all bands that knew how to kick off a song and send it quickly into maximum overdrive. It’s been a while, but big, loud, brash and dirty rawk is back. This here new band we’ve got in town? Magazine Dirty? They get it. And now we get it too.
Their eponymous new CD, Magazine Dirty, opens in full gallop, with a nihilistic romp that takes its title from an old Irish saying and turns it into a virtual call to action: “Don’t stop, you can sleep when you’re dead!” gasps Curtis Campbell, as if he’s drawing a last breath before ordering another round of drinks and rallying like-minded souls to hit the “big city” and join him in an all night partying rampage.
Campbell’s a splashy mess of a front-man, a peculiar mash-up of David Johannsen and Mick Jagger, with perhaps a little Lux Interior and Stiv Bators thrown in for good measure. His star power and unchecked energy on stage make for required watching, because while you’re never exactly sure what might happen next, there’s a real possibility you may actually see a man explode. For Curtis Campbell, the stage is a hot tin roof of punk rock passion. “Let’s go!!!” Indeed.
The songs on this record tell tales of angst, regret, hurt and misfortune, lovers lost to the bottle (and stronger stuff), lives lived down and out, flat broke, “in the gutter,” zero prospects and an uncertain future. But these songs also come with a fierce determination: We’ll live through this, they say. “It's true I've been abused now,” sings Campbell on “Digging Your Own Grave”:
“…and I've been beat down
I've been the one at the bottom
I never thought that I would be here
I never thought I could feel so common
and now that I know true sorrow
I can finally start too look up the ladder
push through the pain, lean on the throttle
plow ahead like there's no tomorrow
stand up straight, don't dare to look behind…”
This CD is chock full of songs with upright, unapologetic resolve. On “Bloodshot Eyes” Campbell sings, “I do my own thing/If you get on board we’ll take a ride/I want to do it my way/don’t hold me back or stand in my way”); On “Another Sleepless Night” (“red hot cherry on my cigarette/burns my brain won’t let me forget/just like a bullet full of pain and regret/one of these days it’s going to turn out alright”); On “Faded” (“this is community not competition/hell we all die in the end/you try to tell me you lack inspiration/look behind but look ahead/though history can teach a painful lesson/ it can also be a friend”). Hey, life’s tough, Mag. Dirty tells us, but you take your licks, learn your lessons and rock on.
Every song is delivered in a relentless pop-punk frenzy, with Cain and Thomas laying down frantic, fuzzy, jangling guitar licks alongside Campbell’s ongoing, perpetual nervous breakdown, backed by the rolling thunder of Cherry’s bass lines and the tough, insistent power of Chad Nichols’ drums.
You want love songs? “Chained to You” is an almost “X” like lament, the story of a flawed relationship tested by feckless irresponsibility and thoughtlessness. It opens with a rolling bass rumble and a greasy little Hayley Thomas pick-slide, followed by the entire band blistering in at full boil and Campbell’s downhearted wail: “Baby I know I hurt you bad/Didn’t know just what I had…and now that I’ve sobered up/these tears just won’t dry up.” When Hayley joins him to cry out “I’m chained to you, forever!” it’s hard to know whether to celebrate for her or commiserate with her.
“Teenage Lobotomy,” as the name implies, features a shout-out to punk rock legends the Ramones (and a late nod to the Clash). The story itself could have been written while sitting at the bar in any one of half a dozen San Luis Obispo watering holes:
“this is how the night begins
Guinness and a shot of Jameson
jukebox sounds are going strong
fuck it's the ramones let's sing along
pretty little thing sits next to me
bet she's not even twenty three
just like a teenage lobotomy
why do I do this? I must be crazy...”
Yes Curtis Campbell, you must be crazy. That’s a pretty safe bet, considering the last time I saw you you were rolling around on the stage with the microphone in your pants. But the rollicking, old school power punk you’re churning out with your bandmates is like a breath of fresh, Dirty air wafting through the Happiest Town in America. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!!! punk rock band around these parts. Magazine Dirty surely fits the bill.
You can catch them live all over town (including June 29 at SLO Brew), and you can pick up your copy of this raucous new CD online here, at BooBooRecords, at Dr. Cain’s Comics, or right out of Chad Nichols' backpack on just about any street corner in SLO.