Exene Cervenka & the Original Sinners | Sev7en (Nitro)

With the Screamers in tow, Cervenka leans heavily on their strengths, opening the album with a pair of swaggering rockabilly tunes. Opener “It Ain’t Supposed to Be” is one of the album’s most energetic compositions and features some of Cervenka’s finest lyrics.

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If Exene Cervenka were an animal, which animal would she be? Put my money on a shark, because if her career is any indicator, she must be afraid that if ever stops moving she might just die. Starting with her days as the original Los Angeles punk rock goddess in X, where she turned out an album a year almost like clockwork, Cervenka has kept a full calendar. She’s an accomplished poet (five volumes published to date) and renowned spoken word artist, a visual artist (her first show in Santa Monica in 2005 was successful enough to gain an expanded showcase in New York this year), toured sporadically with a reunited X, revived her trad-country outfit the Knitters (a side project with her X partner in crime John Doe) for its first album in 20 years, and, now, released a second album with her new side band, the Original Sinners.

Sev7en is a completely different animal than the Sinners’ self-titled debut. For starters, Cervenka’s name has been firmly placed at the top of the masthead. Second, the new album has an almost completely reconstituted lineup, with Cervenka and returning guitarist Jason Edge replacing their earlier, punkier backing band with Dan Sabella, Chris Powers, and Kevin O’Conner—a trio St. Louisans might know better as three-fourths of the rockabilly outfit the 7 Shot Screamers.

With the Screamers in tow, Cervenka leans heavily on their strengths, opening the album with a pair of swaggering rockabilly tunes. Opener “It Ain’t Supposed to Be” is one of the album’s most energetic compositions, and features some of Cervenka’s finest lyrics (the slyly referential put-down “All tomorrow’s parties have not invited you” is a particular highlight) and “Last Dance” keeps the punktry energy in high gear.

A fine cover of the Gun Club’s “Ghost on the Highway” slides in soon after on a stampede of rollicking rhythm guitars and a heaping helping of slide guitar, but the album as a whole is mostly back-loaded, its finest songs not kicking in until past the halfway point. “History Now” is the crowd-pleaser and winner of the Most Likely to Be an X Song Award, its punched-up punk rock guitars and dissonant duet vocals—the only occurrence here of X’s bread-and-butter singing style—a dead ringer for the quartet’s output. “Tavern,” an ode to one-night stands—“Small town weekend tavern love,” as Cervenka calls it—would fit on an early Uncle Tupelo album, while “Good at Being Bad” has enough swing to make even Brian Setzer jealous. The somber country death song “Lonesome War” is book-ended by a pair of great up-tempo songs, “Down Where It’s Down” riding a deep bass groove, while “Long Distance” and its spaced-out surf sound like a long-lost track from Pixies’ Bossanova.

What’s left after all these fine songs is a mish-mash, songs that either don’t sink in (the spaced-out “Sky Blue Pink,” brought down by some rather limp rhythm guitar work) or border on irritating. The most egregious example is “Born Yesterday,” which features some almost painfully bad lyrics from Cervenka, a woman whose discography dates back over a quarter century, as she whines about not being carded at the liquor store. Puh-leez. The album also unfortunately ends on one of its weakest songs, “Hollywood Signs,” as Cervenka reaches for the Neko Case end of her vocal register but instead hits a high-pitched monotone that gets irritating long before the song’s end.

Despite a few minor misses, Sev7en is still highly enjoyable and, mostly, successful. While hardly the required listening of Cervenka’s X days, her latest album has enough fine selections to do justice to the legacy of one of punk rock’s true legends.

 

 

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