No Change EP

Released 1979 on Black Hole
The Seth Man, December 2000ce
This is one single whose obscurity is only matched by it’s completely ill production of four strangely schizoid songs that barely exist like half-remembered fragments of the band’s collective musical psyche collected and recorded in the nearest available bathroom with two microphones. From the wake of the first dissolution of Destroy All Monsters, Ron Asheton’s post-Stooges rock/art project with ex-MC5 bassist Michael Davis and ex-model Niagara, Xanadu formed and recorded this -- their only release. It has all the makings of a classic pre-punk single from Cleveland circa 1976 -- except this was from Detroit three years later! The sleeve is mimeographed (not xeroxed, mind you) and the front sleeve is a dark copy of a photograph of spires, kiddy blocks and partially dressed packing crates (ostensibly chosen to represent the setting of Coleridge’s epic from which they copped their name) with nary a dome to be seen. The other side has copious information as to personnel and recording rendered in handwritten typewriter letters that surrounds a drawing of a dragonfly like an early Pere Ubu Hearpen release.

But enough of the sleeve -- what does it sound like? Well, it begins with “No Change” as a pre-recorded toddler’s voice counts off “1-2-3-4”, but when the guitar bursts in like a twitching Ronnie Montrose overdosed on diet pills, the riffs come fast and furious and rock out to the max. As well they should, because they’re pushed up in the mix to dwarf everything but the Lou Reed vocals of Larry Miller who deadpans against his guitar riffs behind cool black shades. It really is one of the most unpredictable guitar lines ever as it stops, starts before it then begins all over again but never loses the rhythm for a second, which nearly herky-jerks itself off into a fit. It’s almost like Radio Birdman playing within a hollowed-out Rush exoskeleton -- but minus all the excruciating drum fills, temple bells, crotales and gong-agongs. The guitar is searching its pockets for yet another reason to riff on, and suspending disbelief, it manages to in the most incredible way. Miller searches his back pocket -- there’s another one! -- And from his left jeans pocket: another. It’s as though he had some many great ideas for riffs he couldn’t decide so compromised by chucking them all in and be damned with the consequences, which are awesome. Or he’s about to forget how to play guitar permanently by session’s end, so he’s got to get them all out right now. It’s a run on sentence of verbal guitar tersely reigned in against the pre-recorded rhythm guitar and faint drumming, which is bulldozed to the back wall. Oddly enough, “No Change” is the name of the song, and the lyrics are all checked off like a list: “No change in your pocket/No change in your mind/What’s the difference when you can’t decide?” He should know, as he can barely settle on two riffs for the song, so he trickily strings them all together. What did they treat the water supply of Michigan with -- amphetamines?!! Miller’s still singing behind his shades, interrupting his previous guitar line with yet another different one, and never once does it scatter into discord, but it dares to at any moment. Under-recorded handclaps then go neck and neck with an ever-stinging solo that stretches beyond the limits of its capabilities as it reaches out and throttles it out to the horizon of its eternal tangledness far beyond the fade out.

The other track on side one of this 33 1/3 EP is “Time Bomb,” a completely kettle of fish altogether. Least of all because Miller has now slowed his guitar down to a pimp walk with palms curled a good yard behind his back, threatening to grind them into the sleazy downtown pavement where he now shuffles. The vocals now sound not a bit Lou but strangely like his one-time Verve label mate Frank Zappa. It’s exactly the tone and meter of Frank’s near-spoken delivery on “Trouble Comin’ Every Day.” Ron Asheton also cops a credit on “Time Bomb” -- probably for the bomb explosion that occurs at the end of this burning fuse of a garage shuffle.

The flipside sees two further aspects of Xanadu with “Switch The Topic,” beginning with detuned noise guitar as Carey Loren drawls/drools into an over compressed microphone a conversation between himself and…himself. He doesn’t even try to change the voice of the other party who’s trying to crawl out of sticking to the facts as Loren even gets the lyrics wrong over doomy bass and swooping guitar interference: “No, I don’t think so...gimme a cigarette...Why don’t we change the subject?” ‘Subject’?! Wait a minute: what happened to ‘topic’? Why do I ask? Because that’s the name of the song!! He got his own lyrics wrong! Either that, or he’s changing the ‘topic’, er, I mean, the ‘subject’. This scores an immediate and direct hit to the heart of that rarest of classic rock’n’roll stoopiditty you gotta wait eons for it to finally hit. And when it does, you can almost see the world as being perfect if there were at least five equally as hilariously self-contained perfections of humour per hour!! Everyone could live in peace just busting a gut all day long! Oh, “Switch The Topic” is one fuckin’ funny, FUNNY moment and I wouldn’t trade it for an all-night hallucinogenic goose-greased broomstick ride with Liz Hurley, all expenses paid (And Miz Liz is the cat’s PJs, methinks.) And then pre-recorded tapes of applause, more strangled guitar noise and general white noise static are all thrown in as the (‘subject’ -- uh -- or the ‘topic’) changes by going down the drain with so much under-recorded feedback it sounds like you’re listening to it through a detached vacuum hose.

Concluding the EP is the elegiac “Blackout In The City” with the appearance of acoustic strumming and added electric guitar counterpoint over on a rafting of organ wafting as Rob King’s minimal drumming is rendered into an almost non-existent corner of the mix. It’s a sparse recollection of an urban nightmare as Loren mono(in)tones fragmentary lyrics of desolation as “the city’s dying slowly and the people left behind” where “the heat of night is frozen” within a calm garage enigma. A woman’s voice enters in and out, speaking snatches of indecipherable epigrams. The entire EP almost seems like something heard in a dream but no: it’s real. And to prove it, the matrix number is 0000.