As far as "Switched On" compilations go, Aluminum Tunes does a great job at satisfying the fan's desire for rarities by including three unreleased tracks and a couple of alternate versions of previously released tracks. It even includes an entire seven-track EP that was sold as part of an art exhibit by New York-based sculptor Charles Long (the tracks complemented Long's sculptures). It's nice to see these once rare yet essential Moogy, guitar-noise anthems receive the mass-produced treatment. Gane's attention to detail hasn't waned as Stereolab's recognition has grown. (Drag City, P.O. Box 476867, Chicago, IL 60647)
The promise of this Tokyo band is awesome. That fact is garishly, vividly illustrated by "Highway a Go Go," the first song on Welcome Back, Zoobombs! and one of the most devastating garage-punk numbers ever recorded. It has often been noted that rock's most primal, direct performances transcend verbal communication, that Little Richard, Hound Dog Taylor, and Johnny Ramone might have been speaking Japanese for all the import their specific word choices carried. Well, here, the singer -- Don Matsuo -- proves exactly that. He sings in Japanese, but for a rock-versed English-speaker there can be no question of what the song is about. From the feedback whine and evil chuckle that compose the intro to the frantic, organ-driven verse to the relentless guitar-and-drum-crashing, skidding, shouting-and-crashing-again sound of the chorus -- it's about rocking, and rocking hard.
Is it a surprise that Welcome Back, Zoobombs! doesn't achieve such heights again? Not really, considering that "Highway a Go Go"'s most revered antecedents are one-shot deals from bands like the Troggs, ? and the Mysterians, and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. The surprise is that it seems they didn't even make an attempt. The rest of the album, a reissue of the band's 1997 full-length debut in Japan (on a label called Ricetone; the band name reportedly comes from the Japanese word zubon, which means pants), -- approaches neither the rude volume nor the fever pitch of "Highway." Most of the other twelve tracks fall, not ineptly, into the crowded category of Jon Spencer/Beck-style blues-rap.
Catchy "Jumbo" is the best of these; it features a singsong chorus by Zoobombs female keyboardist, Mattaira. "The Swamp" and "Mojo Man" are more uptempo, with Matsuo's jarringly staccato vocal barrage providing a brighter point of interest than the band's competent riffing. Zoobombs' workaday mimicry takes a turn for the worse when the band shifts its attention from amped-up four-piece rock to trendier styles. Matsuo blurts out some stock rock phrases (like "You don't know how much I love you") in the frenetic "Midnight '69," but his broken English -- along with the song's rallying cry of "Sixty-nine!" -- suggests a novelty act better left to a band of lesser abilities. (Emperor Norton Records, 102 Robinson St., Los Angeles, CA 90026)