It should come as no surprise to anyone that Mick Collins and his cohorts, also known as The Dirtbombs, are avid enthusiasts of the Detroit music scene, having earned a reputation as one of the city’s most formidable live acts in their 15 years around, during which they’ve released a slew of 7 singles, EPs, and four full-length albums. It should also come as no surprise for them to release a covers album; their sophomore effort was devoted entirely to reworkings of soul and funk numbers from the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton.
Just as they transformed these groovy, r&b jams from the ’60s-’70s into hard-ripping, though somehow soulful, garage punk anthems, they’ve now released their fifth proper long-player: again, a record comprised entirely of covers, this time, sampling influential techno artists from the ’80s-’90s, all of whom hail from Detroit. For those who have been waiting on the bubblegum pop record the band has been promising to come out with for as long as Dr. Dre has been hyping up Detox, it appears you will have to keep waiting, the very notion beginning to seem unlikely to ever come to fruition.
As their 2001 effort, Ultraglide in Black, will attest to, The Dirtbombs can pretty much mutate any genre into their brand of hard-ripping garage-rock, and it seems they’ve taken on another challenge with Party Store (which in Detroit slang means bodega, or convenience store), a record that pays homage to vintage techno, but by no means is a techno album. You have to be a native of Detroit to even recognize any of these tunes, but as the band has remained a landmark in their locale, it is likely that their hard-line fans will. Whereas the range of music The Dirtbombs have adopted has always been eclectic, from the soul of Ultraglide to the New Wave cover of Sparks’ Sherlock Holmes, located on their most recent record, We Have You Surrounded, Party Store finds them, for the first time ever, revamping electronica and computerized sounds into live, organic instrumentalism.
No easy feat.
But The Dirtbombs handle it with grace and aplomb, reconstructing Innerzone Orchestra’s Bug In The Bassbin into a twenty-one-minute opus, imitating its rhythmic drum patterns to the tee, building on its screeching riffs with strings rather than electronics. Their first single, A Number of Names’ sinister and hypnotic Sharevari, renamed here Shari Vari, sounds so similar to the original, it’s frightening. They sample from Detroit’s acclaimed underground Kings, from Juan Atkins to Derrick May, with tracks that made techno a prominent genre once upon a time. The only song that sounds seriously contrastive of its original is Tear The Club Up, first done by DJ Assault.
What’s most invigorating about Party Store is its loudness, its raging persona that has been shaped by these otherwise overlooked songs. The ominous synths and malevolent nature of Cybotron’s Cosmic Cars remains, but with more aggressiveness, more in-your-faceness, more depravation. Twenty years ago you’d be dancing to this club track; today it would be your soundtrack to tearing shit up. DJ Rolando’s Jaguar, which even now would be fitting for your next ecstasy trip, is altered into a rowdy jam track, brimming with psychedelia and assertiveness, capturing the mind-boggling electronic sounds with faint guitar strings. Again, this is no easy feat.
Releasing a covers album can be career suicide for some, due to the pressures of stripping apart a classic and making it your own, but Party Store is refreshingly not the case. Here, it seems the premise is not to alter the late ’80s techno Mick Collins was listening to as frontman of his old band, The Gories, (one fellow Detroitian Jack White states as a major influence) but to recreate them live, to perpetuate the same mechanically based resonance with heavy bass, distorted guitars, and teetering snares. Even Collins’ otherworldly falsetto sounds surprisingly homogeneous, making this the ultimate indulgence in nostalgia for any committed fan of Detroit’s underground scene.