Addiction - Kevin K and The Real Kool Kats (Lollipop Records)
With Australian label Vicious Kitten no more, someone Down Under has to fly the flag for Kevin K, a true standard bearer for the New York Bowery music scene and someone with something to say. That Mr K does so with feet variously planted in his old stamping ground of New York City, his sometime home of Florida, occasionally Japan and, more often than not, Europe, with various local backing bands in tow, is an indictment of the wider musical world rather than an indicator of a guy with severe wanderlust.
"Addiciton" might throw up a few familiar themes (the loss of the Bowery scene and some notable punk rockers, cautionary tales of smack and having a good time – not all at the same time, and more about all that later). It's also Kevin's strongest album to date (though I've still not heard "Sealed Works" so maybe a verdict is premature). His French band, The Real Kool Kats, sound as tough as last week's steak Provencal with the guitars mixed right up front. Shining through, however, is an innate sense of melody (apparent ever since Mr K was a Road Vulture, it must be said) that lifts it all above the level of your bog standard guitar rock.
So does Kevin's sense of humour, from the Dante's Inferno-themed CD slick (wall-to-wall skeletons) to the portrait of St Jude (patron saint of Lost Causes) inside. The four dinner table skeletons (variously tagged as Stiv, Johnny, Dee Dee and Jerry Nolan) on the inner tray give the game away if you haven't twigged by now.
NYC's musical decline and drugs are the overriding themes. On the former, "Whores of Babylon" borrows lines from some of the great tunes of the NY punk scene with a lyrical reminder ("What a time/What a place/Changed the world/From their space") that most of what remains is a pale imitation.
As for the junk – well, five originals of the 13 songs (six if you count the title track's reprise) make direct references to The Hard Stuff – and that's just in the titles. Not that "Cretin Heroin" tells anyone to go out and hit up the stuff (and "Lethal Injection" is a pounding surf intro, al la Thunders' pipeline). Then again, there's the sole cover – a stinging take on the Heartbreakers' "One Track Mind" (and we know what sort of tracks were on THEIR collective minds). Without getting all Walter Mitty-ish, it adds some grime via delivers a matter-of-fact warning, rather than a sermon. Airplay was clearly a futile objective anyway.
The Real Kool Kats are pretty much a very good pub band that you or I should be more than happy catching at our local watering hole next weekend. Rhythms are rock solid rather than adorned (much like Niggs Nolan and Reverend Billy Rath) and the guitars grind rather than chug. Kevin K lays down his distinctive vocals underneath, rather than on top of, a heavy, churning mix.
If you detect a note of dismay that the likes of Kevin K (and fellow NYC product Sonny Vincent) have to vacate their spiritual musical homes to make a living, you're correct - but to be honest, it's more a lament that it's not economical for them to haul their arses to Australia for some shows. Putting aside the tyranny of distance, wherever you lay YOUR hat, you can at least buy the CDs and strike a blow for Real Rock and Roll. As far as Kevin K is concerned, if you're a newcomer, this is a great place to start.