NoMeansNo - Mama !
NoMeansNo - Mama
( LP/CD Wrong records, 1982)
Living Is Free / My Roommate Is Turning Into A Monster / Red Devil / Mama's Little Boy / We Are Chopped / No Sex / Rich Guns / No Rest For The Wicked / Living In Detente
[500 made. The original LP comes with a lyrics sheet. Available on CD. It was also temporarily released on cassette by Wrong Records (mastered from an LP) before the master tapes were found, which were used for the CD.]
Perfect. Just when I finally ‘finished’ the Nomeansno-page and added a concert review, Southern Records re-release the band’s rare debut album. Initially, only five hundred copies were pressed, and then the master tapes were lost. The band then distributed it on tape mastered off a record and managed to get their hands on the tapes again, releasing it in 1992. I’ve never even seen it around though, and I swear I’ve been looking for it dozens of times in record stores all over the place (and I refuse to bid 200 dollars for an album on eBay). Oh well, I finally have it and basically I can only agree with what’s been said by several people: it’s different, it’s undeniably Nomeansno, but it’s also not very good.
On some level I certainly like it, that’s because I love the band, but I’m also a man enough to admit that after about a dozen listen or so, there’s very, very little that sticks with me. It’s probably because the album’s so different than I’d expected: the 1994 compilation One Down and Two to Go contains songs that were recorded two or three years before this, and while they’re obviously the product of an inexperienced band, they were playful, energetic ditties that were funny (“Canada Is Pissed”), awkward (“Burn,” with the memorable line “My mind is a Nazi, but my soul is a Jew”) or both at the same time (“Pigs and Dogs”). That also goes for the early 7” inch Betrayal, Fear, Anger, Hatred (1981) they added to this CD: there’s an embryonic version of “Forget Your Life,” which they’d rerecord a few years later, but also straightforward, punk-ish rock ‘n’ roll (“Try Not to Suffer,” “I’m All Wet”) and a piano-led pop track in the vein of the earlier “More ICBMs.”
The music on Mama is far more experimental and cerebral than anything they’d done before. For the first time, their music’s completely defined by the fact they were only recording as a duo the time.
Refusing to consider this a limitation, the band simply developed a unique approach to songwriting, as both bass and drums became more than just part of a rhythm section. While Rob’s alternately crawling and pounding bass lines provide the melodic part, John’s drumming is already as remarkable as it still is today, with weird accents, rumbling tom rolls and occasionally stunning velocity topping it off.
This works excellently in the case of album opener “Living Is Free,” which has bass playing on a par with that of Bourgeoisie’s “Can’t Stop Talking” (and already seems to announce “The End of All Things”). In this song, and a few others, the due also adds keyboards, but they basically don’t change the peculiar nature of the music. The remainder of the album, however, isn’t as successful. It’s immediately obvious these guys have talent, but the songs rarely rock, while not all of these minimalist grooves are that interesting. The sinister funk-wave of “My Roommate Is Turning into a Monster” and the fractured art-funk of “No Sex” that reminds of Gang of Four, are pretty cool, but tracks like “Red Devil” and “Mama’s Little Boy” are pummelling songs that aren’t half as interesting as the band’s later efforts.
Similarly, the fast rumble of “No Rest for the Wicked” is no match for, say, “Big Dick.” That said, there’s another ‘highlight’ in the guise of “Rich Guns,” a ska-influenced, socio-political rant with some great drumming. Even though John’s vocals aren’t the deep, demagogue’s baritone of the later albums and the addition of guitar player Andy Kerr would turn them into a really interesting band on subsequent releases, Nomeansno’s spirit, originality and twisted lyrical concerns are already there. It’s just that some of these tracks are too self-indulgent or directionless, never gaining true momentum, making it a rather underwhelming experience.
Note: The new edition contains HILARIOUS videos for “Forget Your Life” and “Rich Guns” with John and Rob looking very early 80’s, almost unrecognisable and playing the songs like Kraftwerk-like robots in some incredibly bland environment.