Black Monk Time Too "Polished" For Ya??
by Mike Fornatale

They've done it again. They've confounded me completely.

Hearing Black Monk Time for the first time was, of course, a mind-shattering experience. But you probably know that already, don't you?

Seeing The Monks on video, via some badly-dubbed old German TV clips, was another revelation altogether. Who would've thought that this angry, howling music could have looked like such FUN on stage?

And now, here it is again. You've heard about the material that's on this CD....and, like me, wondered if you'd ever get to hear it yourself. And now you can. But, as I said, you'll be confounded. It's nothing like you'd expect. It's an epiphany.

I have always rolled my eyes in disgust when confronted with glassy-eyed blue-skinned "Tape Traders" who, zombie-like, compile endless stacks of C90 cassettes with 38 different live versions of ONE SONG by their favorite band--37 of which sound EXACTLY THE SAME to me except for one or two little Guitar Farts right before the third verse. Who needs it? Music was meant to be ENJOYED on some level--not over-intellectualized into oblivion.

Which brings us to Five Upstart Americans by The Monks, newly released on Johan Kugelberg's OMPLATTEN label--home of the Mutantes reissues. Why, you might wonder, did we need this disc? We already have, arguably, one of the finest-honed bejeweled nuggets of the 1960s in Black Monk Time--of what actual use is the "work tape?" Aren't we in danger of indulging in that over-intellectualization we were just speaking about?


Of course you know the story. These are the demo recordings that the band made, as they were morphing from Torquays to Monks. They're grasping around in the dark, trying to form a sound which has no blueprint. Yet, as you listen to it, you can FEEL how close they are to their final goal--and yet, how close they still are to sounding like The Torquays. Sounds like something you can imagine without actually hearing it, right? Well, you're wrong.

You've heard two of these tracks already, of course, and that's what's going to mess you up. The bonus tracks on the Black Monk Time CD are from these sessions--and they are, surprisingly, the two LEAST representative of the overall mood of the proceedings. They're stark, bare, harrowing.

The rest of the session will have you in stitches. The whole FEELING of it is totally unexpected. Starting right up front, at the beginning of each track, with Larry's organ intros--they're not spooky and foreboding at all, but very straight and churchy. Roger has not yet settled in totally on his unique spartan drumming style--he's literally straddling halfway between Bar Band Roger and the Roger From Hell that you have come to know and love. Ditto for Eddie's bass--make no mistake, it does growl like an angry mongrel, but it's turned up to only eleven rather than the subsequent fourteen.

Dave's banjo sound is nothing like it is on BMT either. It sounds like a BANJO here. This will not disappoint you. If anything, it's even MORE unsettling hearing this music being played on such a happy-sounding instrument.

Sidebar: by the way, we must do something about this "BMT" acronym we've all been using. If you're a New Yorker, it's at once unsettling and appropriate--to us, y'see, BMT will always stand for "Brooklyn/Manhattan Transit", and a screaming subway train is as good an analogy for the Monks in 1966 as it was for the Dolls in 1973. Perhaps we can get the boys to call their forthcoming live album "IRT", and then the reunion album could be "IND." Oh well. Those of you in the REST of the world can just ignore all of that. In fact, you had better.

Musically, Gary's guitar is probably the closest to fully-formed, although you can tell he's still exploring. It's his SINGING that's very different here--it's much more "musical" (read: "normal") than on BMT. An even greater revelation: his spoken introductions to several of the songs indicate what a pile of fun was being had by all concerned.

Here's what you get: thoroughly different versions of Monk Time, Wie Du, Higgledy Piggledy, and a TOTALLY different rendering of Love Came Tumbling Down--a song that I never felt received enough credit for its thoroughly schizo intensity--a song that manages to blend post-doo-wop vocalising with the kind of instrumental skronk that would not sound out of place on a Blue Cheer album, for Christ's sake....(think I'm kidding? Find someone who knows music but doesn't know the Monks. Play them JUST THE LAST LINE OF THE CHORUS on the BMT version....."In your arms I must re-TURRRRRNNNNNNNN".....and ask 'em who it is. Betcha they guess Johnny Maestro and the Crests.) The version on FUA lacks those harmonies but makes up for it in sheer weirdness.

You also get another version of Boys Are Boys, and two songs you've heard about but never HEARD: Uschi Puschi [sic] and Pretty Suzanne. The former is everything you've hoped for and more, and I'll leave it at that. The latter is, I think, the very best example of the Monks' musical and lyrical strategy......they make those two words, "Pretty Suzanne" speak volumes just via repetition......there's no "Pretty Suzanne, she lights up the sky with her ey-ey-eyes," or any such nonsense.

(Not even "Pretty Suzanne, she smells like a man" or "Pretty Suzanne, even on the can." No charge for those.)

Seriously, those two words are all you get. Whether you speak English or not, you will get the message. And you will fill in the blanks yourself. You can't NOT.

Finally--and a huge bag of kudos to whomever came up with this idea--you get both sides of the original and impossibly rare Torquays 45, Boys Are Boys and There She Walks. These have previously been available on a German compilation CD of dubious legality--well, no, that's not true, it was of ZERO legality--but whomever compiled that one used a very scratchy copy of the 45. I don't know what the source was for this CD, but they sound perfect. And if you haven't heard THESE either--whooooooo. If you make the mistake, as I did, of thinking the Torquays were a competent but standard-issue "Frat House" style band, this will open your eyes so wide they may fall out of your head into your corned beef hash. There She Walks, in particular, is an astonishing composition--the verses are broken up into odd-shaped fragments and re-combined at the end, in a way that was totally unheard-of at the time.....it may remind you of the way artists like XTC play with the song-form and subject it to a virtual vivisection........ah, well, there's really no point in trying to describe this to you. The only way you'll ever understand this is if you HEAR it......and this is what I recommend you do. Now!

A huge tip of the hat to Omplatten for an excellent package, as well.....great liners by Eddie and Gary.....and great pictures as well. Some you've seen, some you haven't. Two pictures in particular are quite telling: the one on the cover, reproduced above, shows the Monks as you know them. One of the shots on the inside is much more representative, I think, of the band that created these demos--they have the Monks LOOK, but their faces tell a different story altogether. It's a whole coming-of-age metaphor that I won't bore you with. Suffice to say that the guy who would soon howl "I hate you with a passion baybaaaaayyyy" looks, for all the world, like a cross between Eddie Haskell and Mike Love. And I hope he reads that with the affection it's intended with, or I'm gonna have to go hide under something......


Short version: Buy this. Now.