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Roky Erickson - The Evil One (1981)/Don’t Slander Me (1986)/Gremlins Have Pictures (1986) review

Roky Erickson 
The Evil One (1981)/Don’t Slander Me (1986)/Gremlins Have Pictures (1986)

Taken together, these three albums comprise the most worthwhile segments of Roky Erickson’s post-13th Floor Elevators career. Thanks to Light in the Attic’s usual tender loving care, they can now be appreciated in full.

                The Evil One, easily the highlight of trio, is the best thing Roky’s ever done outside of his work with the Elevators. It got called different things in its various editions, but initially it came out in 1981 via CBS U.K. under this title. CCR’s Stu Cook produced from Cosmo’s Factory, Roky was on fire artistically, and backing band The Aliens simply kicked rear. Roky cited The Yardbirds, Who, and Kinks as exemplars of the type of “ferocious” rock and roll he meant this album to contain; he accomplished that and then some. Fine as the record is, it might have confused many Elevators heads, due to its shift in lyrical content from what could be heard on Psychedelic Sounds, Easter Everywhere, and Bull of the Woods. Gone were the Elevators’ cosmic anthems that tripping hippies could use as personal manifestos, replaced by songs that name-checked some of Roky’s beloved B-grade horror movies. The titles tell half the story: “Creature with the Atom Brain,” “I Walked With a Zombie,” “Two Headed Dog,” etc. Roky is set free to go off on these exploitation film tangents, while the Aliens positively rip through the scorching backing tracks. The end result is high-octane trash rock that must’ve had the likes of The Cramps seething with envy at the time. Sadly, Roky’s unpredictable antics would soon drive The Aliens in search of advetnures without him as their frontman. But for the amount of time they worked together on these sessions, Roky Erickson and the Aliens were one of the best things going on the music scene of the late 1970s/early 80s. The above-referenced tracks are only three of roughly 10 stone classics this brilliant album includes.

                Years in the making and finally released in ’86, Don’t Slander Me is the most, um, subdued of this trio of albums. Subdued is not a word one generally associates with Roky Erickson, but the fact is, if you didn’t know anything about Roky and you heard some of the songs from this album, you’d think he was just a regular rock and roll bloke doing some pleasantly tuneful tracks. “Starry Eyes,” “Hasn’t Anyone Told You,”  “Realize You’re My Sweet Angel,” “Nothin’ in Return” are all straightforward lover’s laments with Roky sounding calm as he croons, and the band (which included bassist Jack Casady of Jefferson Airplane) playing in a (gulp) mellow kind of way. That’s not to say Don’t Slander Me doesn’t also contain some up the supercharged Roky heard on The Evil One. The superb title track, “Haunt,” and “Crazy Crazy Mama” all have that white-hot feel that gives you the sense you’ll get electrocuted if you get too close to the turntable as they spin. To hear Roky wail through the title track, and to hear him let out a sinister chuckle on “Burn the Flames,” you are reminded that you’re listening to the work of a guy with an inflamed brain. Overall, though, Don’t Slander Me is a more straight-ahead, dare I say laid-back effort, in comparison to The Evil One. It’s got four or five stellar tracks and about that many selections that fall flat.

                Gremlins Have Pictures is the most difficult of these three to peg. The other two were proper albums, albeit ones which took years to compile and get released, while Gremlins is a hodgepodge of tunes recorded in different phases of Roky’s career, with different support players working behind him. Backing bands The Aliens, The Explosives, and Blieb Allen take turns backing Roky, some of the songs are studio efforts and others catch the band live on stages in Austin, TX and various parts of California, there’s the two-sided single that was a very early Rhino Records issue, from ‘77. But if the content of this album is somewhat scattershot, the quality is perfectly clear. This compilation is a sheer treasure for Roky fans, and one that displays various facets of his blazing talent. On the stage (the live stuff is dated over a range that spans 1976-81), Roky sounds focused (yes, I said focused and Roky in the same sentence) and the bands are energized. The eerie “Night of the Vampire” is one of the best songs Roky ever did, the live version of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” bears Roky’s own stamp, “I Am” and “I Have Always Been Here Before” (the latter wonderfully re-imaged by Julian Cope on the Roky tribute album Where the Pyramid Meets the Eye) are two of the finer Roky acoustic numbers. Gremlins Have Pictures finds Roky alternately rocking out, brooding, wild-eyed wigging, and being plaintive. It’s a must-have.

                With all three of these reissues, Light in the Attic includes deluxe packaging containing extensive and informative liners, eye-catching photos, and other graphics that will dazzle Roky enthusiasts. All told, this trio of reissues nicely captures some of the finest moments in the career of one of the most fascinating, influential, bizarre recording artists in the history of popular music.

Review made by Brian Greene/2013
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