The Fear Record
The End Records
Fear’s 1982 debut The Record eschewed the standard Ramones blueprint of punk for a more obtuse, syncopated sound that pushed the guitar back while simultaneously pushing forward the antagonism and social apathy that marked the genre. To this day there’s honest fright to behold in the album’s grooves as the jarring barbs of singer Lee Ving fly by in operatic style beside a band that sounds like some kind of malfunctioning machine. Alas, The Record can no longer stand alone proudly in its own field: Ving and his latest version of Fear re-recorded the entire album last year as The Fear Record for reasons that were never made entirely clear.
The Record was originally released via L.A. punk label Slash; Slash was bought up years ago by Warner Bros, and if I were a betting man I’d say Lee Ving probably attempted to buy back the original tapes at some point before this and gacked on his own tongue when WB slipped him the price. There could also be some legal red tape with Fear’s other original surviving members, inventive guitarist Philo Cramer and hyperactive drummer Spit Stix. On the other hand, considering Ving’s propensity for re-recording Fear oddities and b-sides in the past, maybe he simply decided 2012 was the right time for a do-over of his most ballyhooed creation. Whatever the reasoning, it was faulty. This endeavor is the underground equivalent of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho.
The Fear Record brings a meaty NOFX-style sound to the material, which of course never needed those kinds of sonics to come across punk. Philo Cramer’s frayed guitar work was enough to convince you Fear were no normies. A Cramer solo is a spine-bending affair that projects an acute sense of odd; here, we get half-hearted wanks sitting atop of Xeroxed Johnny Ramone pounding. Speaking of pounding, original drummer Spit Stix was the best reason anyone had to take Fear seriously as musicians, circling around in strange time signatures and playing with such fervor Dick Dale famously accused him of “goosing the beat.” Fear’s current drummer Andrew Jamiez does an okay Spit Stix impression on The Fear Record but ultimately makes you yearn for the real mccoy.
Of course, most Fear boosters will probably be focused on Lee Ving’s voice, which by this point has become a phlegmy shadow of its former self. It was a bad move to start The Fear Record off with Lee croaking out the famous “I Love Livin’ In The City” refrain—more of a lozenge commercial at this point than ironic rallying cry. Sadly, there are several spots throughout where you can apply the same put-down. At least Lee gets through the album’s faster numbers like “We Destroy The Family” and “Gimme Some Action” without losing his place.
Whatever other good things you can say about The Fear Record (the songwriting itself retains some of its original magic, there are no kazoos, as far as I know no pets were maimed during its recording) are outweighed by the massive pointlessness of the endeavor. What did Lee Ving and his latest Fear cronies (Jamiez, Paul Lerma, and Dave Stark) stand to gain by giving us a take two on one of punk’s greatest entries? Who knows. The only thing we gain from this lark is a sharp reminder that the original version of The Record is an amazing relic that cannot be improved upon.
FINAL SCORE: One Xeroxed Johnny Ramone (out of four).