A lot of people forget how incredibly creative and talented the first wave of punk bands were. Punk wasn’t just three chords and amps turned up to eleven: it was about thinking outside the box, and lyrics that were smart and funny and had real-world resonance, and taking chances no corporate band would be allowed to. Punk was as much of a raised middle finger to corporate fascism as it was to the political kind. These days, with Amazon and Facebook doing the kind of job the gestapo and the KGB only wished they could have, there’s more need than ever for the kind of reality check that punk delivered.
And as serious as oldschool punk was, it was just as fun. That’s where New York vets Binky Philips and the Planets come in. It’s actually more astonishing that it took tem 47 years to make their first official studio album, Established 1972 NYC, than it is to hear how much better their chops are than they were when they started. On one hand, age eventually takes its toll on musicians; on the other, the more you play, the better you get, and these guys have had more time than most to sharpen their chops. They made their debut opening for the New York Dolls. They claim to be one of the first ten bands to play CBGB – before the Ramones – and they’re probably right. They definitely have claim to the bandname: the British new wave group responsible for the minor hit Iron for the Irons didn’t hit til seven years later. Philips and the original Planets debut album is just out (and not streaming anywhere – back in 1972, the internet was a dial-up connection for the Pentagon). They’re playing their usual haunt these days, Arlene’s, on May 13 at 8 PM; there’s no cover. You can bet this blog will be in the house.
As you would imagine from a band that actually predated the punk era, the influences on the album range from 70s Britsh pub rock to 60s garage rock and psychedelia, but also new wave. The esthetic is pure Old New York: brash, sarcastic, absolutely fearless. The opening track, Splitsville or Bust has a chugging pub rock pulse,: “You’re the one that wishes me dead…your’re all invited to eat my dust,” frontman Nolan Roberts roars. Drinking Gasoline is simpler, sort of the missing link between American pub rock legends the Reducers and early AC/DC.
With Philips’ layers of guitars and classic 60s riffage, the sardonic party anthem Just Fine Just Fine wouldn’t be out of place on a Flamin’ Groovies album from the mid-70s. “99 bottles of beer on the wall, yes they all are empty,” Roberts asserts.
Kinda Liked It at the Time, a grim cautionary tale, is even funnier, Mike Greenwberg’s growling bass in tandem with Bobby Siems’ steady, insistent drumming. Geenberg’s catchy bass hooks fuel Leave Me Hanging, an amusing new wave strut with a nod in the direction of the early Police.
Siems switches between a suspenseful clave and a four-on-the-floor stomp in Plumbing the Depths, a wee-hours scenario that any party animal can relate to. The album’s best track is Blink, a desperate narrative that could be a Vietnam War tale, or apocalypse by gentrification.”This will not stand from where I’m sitting, damn right I’m going to put up a fight,” Roberts bellows, Greenberg’s bass rising achingly as the chorus kicks in. Then the band hit a mashup of Certain General postpunk and Ducks Deluxe pub rock for the stomping mob hit story Goodbye to All That.
The only really straight-up punk tune here is Sour Grapes, with a chorus about running from the Border Patrol that resonates twice as much now as when the band most likely wrote it. The final cut, Wear Out the Grooves, is ripoff of the early Yardbirds, right down to the simple, honking blues harp and boisterous oldschool R&B vamping. Still, it’s amazing how much energy the band have after all these years. Unlikely as it seems, these guys have put out one of the dozen best rock records of 2019 so far.