The Coathangers – Larceny & Old Lace
Right in front of everybody, The Coathangers go and change the equation from rowdy cussing heave-ho to Romeo love songs that laid the basis for their good/bad girl image, to a darker, more unhinged repertoire that makes their third record a strong follow-up to Scramble.
What at first may seem a reversal of their hard partyin’ nature as the clubhouse band merely ups the ante with a thorny, neurotic, three-fingers-of-Wild Turkey-ye-ye barrelhouse precision to put that same excitement into words. Or, as the Lizard King descriptively cited, it’s “soft drivin’, slow and mad, like some new language.”
With four unorthodox, distinctive voices licking the lyrics, the tongue-n-cheeky back-n-forth has regenerated itself into a wreckage of affection cracked by a prism of madness. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does these red-flagged, steer-clear, get-off-my-cloud, tush-pushed recitations any better than The Coathangers, with their unsentimentalized come-hither more of a gone-yonder.
Who can mistake the disgruntled tinkling of Texas Radio and the Big Beat piano on “Well Alright”? Or the borderline dementia on “My Baby”? Simpler arrangements focus the ear on a more intricate lyrical direction, to where Larceny & Old Lace is a catalyst the same way Let It Bleed shifted the Stones.
So as the heavens open wide on “Hurricane,” with its high-energy drain on “Cheap Cheap” reminders, the pent-up valve erupts to assure us there’s still a whole lotta yellin’ goin’ on. “You’re like thunder/ You’re like rain/ You’re my little hurricane” is the tough-ass alarm to mark this record as a rotation frenzy in a slightly different direction. Recorded by Ed Rawls and Justin McNeight, The Coathangers are becoming studio-confident enough to bring the imagination of their stage shows to bear on the armed-and-dangerous controlled room. The style may be more direct but the slap ‘n’ spit is still there.
A dark-pop parting shot of neglect and abandonment, “Trailer Park Boneyard” has that sweet-bird-of-youth-on-a-hot-tin-roof southern misbehavior passion present in other girl group songs, but twisted, bordering on crazed. “Go Away” reaffirms the traditional position of their other love songs that like you better when you’re not around. Carefully we’re being eased beyond the imagined magic of “143” toward prospecting for gold but turning up shit, as “Sicker,” with its irregular heartbeat, endures “another goddamn fight.”
Kate Bush once used the sound of camera shutter clicking as the rhythm track for “Army Dreamers.” The Coathangers sing “Bite your fingers off/ ‘Til they’re nice and soft/ I will never let you go” as the typewriter keys punctuate “Call to Nothing.” “Jaybird,” I’m told, is about Jay Reatard. It’s the eye of the storm; mournful, quiet chaos in passing. Waiting for the sun and the all-clear, the backside hits shattering seriousness with “Johnny,” blunt-force trauma like tumblin’ dice down an airshaft. Brazenly rock ‘n’ roll but still evolving.
It doesn’t matter which record is hailed as a band’s best. What’s important is the record that captures a band at its peak. I consider Scramble a fast-lane masterpiece of material to pump up a crowd, but I also recognize Larceny to be a confident stride seizing the moment. And part of the reason for that is found on “My Baby.” Mysteriously eerie like “Harlem Nocturne” by The Viscounts (download it and see), it has the organic keyboard connection to a waterspout inside-out which makes me think of The Doors’ “Not to Touch the Earth” as the bass grows a five o’clock shadow. It needs to be acknowledged that, especially on this track but also in the album’s totality, the guitar parts have progressed beyond that staccato offhanded slam effect to a point where it bolsters the language of the songs. Throughout Larceny it’s miraculous as well as melodic when hung far low in the mix.
“Chicken 30” could just as easily pass for a work song sung by the Children of the Corn as #1 on the EARL’s jukebox. Goat-gritty like a frothed up wedding cake left unattended beneath a stack of screen doors on the porch, it’s the marriage of the stimulated and the intoxicated, so the party is still on – only roadhogs, Brie eaters and scalp hunters got an invite.
Lo and behold, we’ve reached “Well Alright.”
While a horny piano reflects a late summer tumble overlooking a shootout in a field of Black-eyed Susans, it doesn’t get any more rockin’ than this core essential milestone to rival “Parking Lot.”
And that might just be the end of it – except for a puzzled postscript called “Tabbacco Rd.” ‘Twix a rural ballad and a rustic reprieve depending on which way the crowbar flies, the song stands as a declaration of sorts that this band can do whatever it wants. At this point, the sky’s the limit. It’s the sequential period and can’t be over-emphasized.
Larceny & Old Lace coalesces into its own somewhere around the final five tier of songs. “Tabbacco Rd.” disperses with conventional rules for a Coathangers song in a conventional way, leaving very little doubt that they’ve made the record they wanted to make. It’s everything I’d hoped it would be.
Let It Bleed?
I say Let It Be Heard.
Larceny & Old Lace