The MC5s Fine Art of Fucking Up

Kick out all the remaining unreleased jams, motherfuckers!

Rock & roll is perfect right now, says MC5 bassist Michael Davis—that's why it just isn't any good. "Everything in music today is so processed," he says from his home in Pasadena, handing over a copy of the new MC5 box set. "They've lost the fine art of fucking up."

And that's an art Davis and his legendary '60s proto-punk power quintet not only perfected but also practically embodied; members Davis, Rob Tyner (vocals), Fred "Sonic" Smith (guitar), Wayne Kramer (guitar) and Dennis Thompson (drums) brought a comparable flair for excess to their drug-addled revolutionary lives. And though that sort of overdrive eventually shook the band to pieces, while they lasted, the MC5 made their own propensity for fucking up into a standard to be matched, delivering so much energy and soul that musicianship became secondary to inspired abandon.

The new, six-CD set (with a 36-page booklet of liner notes and fantastic never-seen photos) Purity Accuracy is testament to rock & roll at its most ferocious, captured both live and in the studio with every glorious fuck-up intact. "All the outtakes," says Davis, "and all the intakes of the MC5."

The MC5's three brilliant official albums remain among the best rock releases ever recorded—Rolling Stone, Spin, NME and Mojo magazines have each counted the group in their various all-time-best lists—but they also suffered at the hands of misguided producers and record labels too conservative to allow the band to play for the "motherfuckers" rather than the "brothers and sisters." As a result, it falls to these rough mixes, spotty live tracks and demos to fill in the blacked-out portions of the MC5's history.

Much of the material collected here was once part of the Alive/Total Energy reissue series—the now-deleted Teenage Lust and Starship, covering a January 1970 Saginaw Civic Center set and a June 1968 Sturgis Armory set, respectively—but this is the first "band-authorized" (Tyner passed away in 1991, Smith in 1994) release since 1971, with tracks that sound like they were pulled from original tapes and the band's own collections, trumping any questionable previous editions.

Besides the complete live sets mentioned above (and unreleased recordings from the Grande Ballroom in 1968), studio rehearsal tapes offer different guitar leads, percussion and vocal takes on classic songs such as "Poison" and "Human Being Lawnmower" (though instrumental versions of "Teenage Lust" and "Call Me Animal," among others, seem like overkill). The highlight of the band was always the seven-plus-minute "Black to Comm," a song the band never had the chance to really record in the studio; Purity Accuracy includes not just one but four versions of the song with the band slipping in and out of sync but still sounding like a pugilistic force.

Likewise, the box set offers inspired cover versions of such R&B classics as James Brown's "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" and William Bell's "Born Under a Bad Sign." The performances aren't as explosive as Kick Out the Jams—nor is the sound quality as bright—but the MC5 was clearly much tighter by the time of these later live recordings. Even the strangely retro-revisionist material recorded live in 2003 at the 100 Club in London sounds genuinely vintage and nearly as energized as the band at its explosive height, as worthy of radio airplay now as they would have been back in 1968.

Somehow that's kind of cool, but somehow it's kind of sad—today, the MC5 are considered one of the greatest rock & roll bands of all time. That they never really got their due when they were around is one of the biggest fuck-ups of all.

PURITY ACCURACY IS OUT NOW ON EASY ACTION RECORDS.

 
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