Hollywood Holiday Revisited
Atavistic (ALP179CD)Grade: ****
Sequestered in the shadows of L.A.'s Paisley Underground, an early-'80s musical movement that connected the dots between dream-pop, psychedelia and dark wave and birthed none other than The Bangles, True West marked its territory with a brooding intensity unmatched by its brethren.
Noisier fare like the band's noir-ish, bloodthirsty first single, "Lucifer Sam," a menacing, howling rocker with traces of '50s surf-rock in the mix, wasn't exactly the kind of thing major labels would glom on to, and, perhaps predictably, True West faded to black after only three studio records, never achieving even the mild success of a Dream Syndicate.
Two of them ? 1983's mini-LP Hollywood Holiday and 1984's Drifters ? are included on Hollywood Holiday Revisited as Atavistic takes a crack at seeing if True West has any better luck, commercially, a second time around.
Smartly, Atavistic passed on tacking on Hand of Fate, a weak 1986 effort that hinted at the band's early demise and was probably sabotaged by frequent personnel changes (original guitarist Russ Tolman, who helped produce the band's first EP, was replaced by Rain Parade's Matt Piucci and Green on Red's Chuck Prophet).
As disparate and unfocused as Hand of Fate was, Hollywood Holiday and Drifters were purposeful, visceral works ? Hollywood Holiday being gloomy and anxious, with snarled dual guitars and flat beats, while Drifters saw True West veering closer to the jangle-pop of early R.E.M.
The buzzing, feedback-drenched drone of "Step To The Door" leads into the galloping paranoia of "I'm Not Here" as Hollywood Holiday begins its descent into madness. Breaking ever so weakly through the gloaming of Hollywood Holiday to offer glimmers of fractured pop light are "And Then The Rain" and the title track with their Tom Verlaine-inspired guitar interplay ? sharp as barbed wire, but with a little twinkle. And it's "It's About Time" is about as close as anyone has ever gotten to deciphering the moody guitar hieroglyphics of Television's "Venus."
Drifters doesn't establish a new identity for True West so much as it represents a refinement of the band's pop sensibilities. There's an urgency in "Look Around" that leaps off the record, and the "Speakeasy" showcases the rhythm section's more highly developed sense of dynamics. Here, core members Tolman, Gavin Blair and Richard McGrath relax the tight strictures of Hollywood Holiday to let tracks like "Shot You Down" unfold in lovely, unpredictable ways.
But it's that love of guitar jangle that takes hold of True West on Drifters, and the drums have a triumphant flourish Hollywood Holiday is missing; it doesn't make the album better, just different.
Where Hollywood Holiday is depressing and almost Gothic, like Joy Division, Drifters offers the wild romanticism of "Hold On" and the gripping guitar hooks of "Backroad Bridge Song (What Could I Say)."
True West did get a chance to work with Verlaine, who produced the three demo tracks at the end of Hollywood Holiday Revisited. The band never got a chance to properly guide the band through an entire LP, but these demos point toward a fuller, richer sonic tapestry. The intertwined guitar ivy planted by McGrath and Tolman is so clear and pure that it makes the playing sound sharper and more defined, while warming the pair's tonality on remakes of "Look Around" and "Throw Away The Key."
Undoubtedly, Hollywood Holiday is worth revisiting, and