Plastic Idols, Singles, Demos, and Live Houston Punk ’78-’80
I can’t claim have a lot of knowledge about Houston punk rock. I used to frequent hardcore shows, I know who the Fatal Flying Guilloteens are, and I know who 30footFALL is. Beyond that, bands like Plastic Idols are pretty unknown to me. They were around before I was born, and they lasted until I was 2 or 3. That adds up to 4 or 5 years, from ’78-’82, that the band punked around with.
It’s obvious they’re from the post-punk/New Wave era, judging by their self-titled compilation of live and unreleased tracks. They love the occasional electric piano, along with off-tempo productions and incredibly nasally vocals. It helps that they do the sound justice, too. The songs are never too loud, always kind of lo-fi and subtle. Each song blurs into the next with such precision that it’s a wonder the band didn’t stick around longer.
There is noticeable Velvet Underground influence, as proclaimed by Chris Lord, vocalist and band founder in the meandering liner notes. The casual listener will notice the Sex Pistols’ or the New York Dolls’ influence on the band, to boot. And let’s not forget the live Beatles cover, “The Night Before,” done in a post-punk homage. Despite the influences, though, the Plastic Idols do have their own unique charm.
They plod through the two-chord experiment “Goodbye,” a song that was used as a filler for a demo tape released some time ago. It’s a long, fun, improvisational mess. The song (as with the rest of the album) is intelligently written, musically and lyrically. The band has a timeless allure, a quality that most bands of the era lacked. “No more ugly things to see / Jesus’ eyes won’t follow me,” Chris sings in “I’m Already Dead.” You won’t hear “I am an anarchist” on this record.
The first 9 or so tracks are good enough for a full-length album these days, but there are an additional 11 live songs on the compilation. This is the more fun part of said compilation; the band is a creative one, for sure. I bet they were a ridiculous live act. The live version of “I.U.D.” outshines the original, and I still don’t know what it stands for. “Yellow Stains” sounds great, as does “Dangerous Drama,” as both are the most VU-like tracks on the album. I can imagine “She Knows” playing alongside clips of surfing accidents — it’s another good one.
I don’t know; this is a subtle release from a time of chaos and experimentation. It’s the same sound that influenced all of the modern nu-New Wave acts with their toned-down punk sensibilities. Bloc Party or The Bravery could learn a lot from the Idols — not that the latter sounds anything like the formers. Chris Lord would likely be insulted by such a claim.