It seems almost too perfectly ironic that now, at a time in
their career when most people have written them off as either dead or
dying, the MC5 should power back into action with the first record that
comes close to telling the tale of their legendary reputation and
attendant charisma. This may appear particularly surprising, given the
fact that the group's live performances have been none too cosmic of
late, but then the old saw is that you can't keep a good band down, and
it's never been more forcefully put than here.
Which is not to say that High Time
is a perfect album, by any means. Most of side two, with the exception
of a lovely little chorus run in Fred Smith's "Over and Over," doesn't
hang together exceptionally well. A large part of the songs seem
incomplete, written around chord progressions that quickly wear thin
and words that display the lower edge of the school of right-on lyrics.
Rob Tyner's "Future Now" (despite a knockout bass line) is the greatest
offender in this case, and through there are some nice moves toward
free-form sound on sound toward the end, nothing ultimately is
developed or carried through. Wayne Kramer's "Poison" is a little
better, opening with a lighting-like series of guitar exchanges, but
when Rob comes in spitting words like "Nature, and Peace,"
one is reminded of nothing so much as the Chamber Brothers on a
particularly V-signed night. Things come to a crashing finale with
"Skunk (Sonicly Speaking)," which moves well for its first half of good
ol' kick-'em-out rock, and then dies a tragicomic death with the
addition of some out-of-place horns.
But if the second side leaves much to be desired,
side one is a no-bones classic. "Sister Anne," about a nun who "don't
give a damn about re-vo-lu-tion/She's a liberated woman, she got her
solution," is a top-flight piece of work in the old tradition. The MC5,
whatever you might have felt were their other (sometimes glaring)
faults, always knew how to play those I-IV-V progressions like nobody's
they're at finest here. The song is put together like a charm, with a
great kicking piano and a long soaring coda that carries you without a
hitch into a bizarre Salvation Army instrumental at the end. Good shit,
any way you look at it, and if there was ever a suspicion that the MC5
would never learn their way around the recording studio, let it be
quietly put to rest now.
"Sister Anne" is only the beginning. "Baby Won't
Ya" takes on where the Salvation Army leaves off, all rollicking
choruses and guitar breaks. Rob's voice sounds strong and sure
throughout, and when he hits the line about how "A lovely senorita took
me by the hand/She said 'whoo baby, won't ya be my
man'," it's easily worth another notch on the volume dial. From there,
it's tossed to Wayne and "Miss X," a ragingly beautiful cut, helped
along by a massive organ, incredible vocals, and a superb arrangement.
The capper, though is saved for Dennis Thompson:
his "Gotta Keep Movin'" not only defines the MC5 in the way that all of
us would have liked to remember them throughout the past dismal year,
but also manages to pull in every trick that literally made them the
most exciting band in America for a brief and glorious time. It's all
there - the precise breaks, the madly screaming dual guitars, the
fanatic drive and energy. Make no mistake, they shovel it out as good
as it ever gets, and that's pretty damn good indeed.
For this, we can only praise the Lord and pass