The Suburbs were Nicolas Cage punks: debonair, blasé, volatile. They were New Romantic, sure, like an unexpected and inappropriate proposal of marriage--an hour into a first date, say, with the Champagne flowing in toast to everyone and everything in the steakhouse. Banned from the Longhorn (Minneapolis's CBGB), and forced to graze in the regional rock circuit of the late Seventies and early Eighties, they sounded happy to be a band, happy to observe the indignation or delirium they provoked in their audience. This was how New Wave was meant to Ferry its way through the slam-dancers, cigarette dangling on pursed lips, lit ashes on skin, suit gathering moisture.
Even those who never saw the Suburbs in the Eighties can glean all this from their full-length recordings, the first three of which have been reissued by Universal Records. Fans will doubtless swoop in hungrily on the hard-to-find sophomore double-disc, Credit in Heaven, which documents the quintet's growth into a white, grumbling Time. Others will recall Love Is the Law, the band's best-ever bid to stop the world and meld with you, O fan of smart songs and smarter hair. (It presaged Ike Reilly's "Commie Drives a Nova" with "Perfect Communist," which featured the punch line, "I'd love to share.")
For Hives enthusiasts, however, the real event is the reissue of In Combo, the criminally forgotten arty-party debut that not only echoes the new haircut bands, but tears them limb from limb and beats them with their own appendages. It might be the funniest record to be shelved among Minnesota classics--think Let It Be if Westerberg had written all his lyrics for Tommy Stinson, taking pains to explain that Gary not only had a boner, but he displayed one with weight and girth. Irony would describe the attitude only if the Suburbs' admiration for the extremities of cattle (to take the example of "Cows") had been feigned. But keyboardist Chan Poling could find no more fitting a thing to toast than the supremely indifferent creatures dotting the prairies between Grand Forks and Milwaukee.
Singer-guitarist Beej Chaney was the jaded center of the band, too cool for old school but eager to swallow R&B and funk with roughage of guitar riffage. He made music for those fidgety rock guys stuck in the disco, and in the process reconciled the Rolling Stones' Some Girls with the ass-freeing needs of the speedy freaks around him. (This music struts for its life.) Chaney himself sounds like he's going to explode with "Goggles On," the most sensational, inspirational, Muppetational tribute ever penned to tripping out while annoying everyone around you. ("I see in color/Not black and white!") That squeaky-high voice might be a rabid Chipmunk squashed under the weight of a giant cowboy boot. Hey, I'll sweat to that oldie.
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