ALPHABETLAND, 180G Black Vinyl LP, Billy Zoom, DJ Bonebreak, Exene Cervenka & John Doe rockin' out some more jams on X's eighth studio album! Also check out "Wlid Gift", "Under The Big Black Sun" & "Los Angeles"!!!
his month, the venerated Los Angeles punk rock band X opened a window that had been shut for 35 years, returning with their first new album featuring all four original members since 1985. They released ALPHABETLAND early, while X fans are quarantined inside and waiting for refunds for the Los Angeles 40th-anniversary tour the band was set to embark on this month.
A quick glance at the tracklist reveals instant fan service. “Delta 88 Nightmare,” first released on the 2001 reissue of Los Angeles as a demo, gets a proper recording. Its 100 seconds of vintage X fury is kicked off by guitarist Billy Zoom’s rockabilly lick, blazing like an Eddie Cochran LP mistakenly played at 45 RPM while Exene Cervenka and John Doe shout in unison, invoking John Steinbeck’s 1945 novel Cannery Row. Even though the reference is a literary one, based on Depression-era Monterey, California, it’s easy to transpose the imagery to X’s version of Los Angeles, Doe and Cervenka stumbling drunk down back alleys, past the “cute resort with dads and moms/Staring at us and making fun.”
“Cyrano de Berger’s Back,” another Los Angeles-era demo that the Zoom-less X recorded for 1987’s See How We Are, gets the version it always deserved. Zoom funks up the verses with some chunky upstrokes and the production from Rob Schnapf (Elliott Smith, Saves the Day) gives the song—written during Doe and Cervenka’s courtship, recorded after their divorce, and presented as intended here—an emotional weight it was never previously afforded. “I got ten arms for you,” the former couple harmonizes, as beautifully as ever, even though the words mean something different 40 years later. “Ten hearts all beating blue.”
X certainly played with its sound across records—even going pure country as the Knitters for a pair of albums—but ALPHABETLAND is a return to the X of the early 1980s. On “Free,” Zoom’s rhythm guitar part dances in-between drummer D.J. Bonebrake’s toms as Cervenka finishes Doe’s phrases. It’s a jangly mid-tempo rocker that peaks with Bonebrake repeatedly slapping the bell on his ride cymbal as forcefully as he did on “We’re Desperate” and “I’m Coming Over,” from 1981’s Wild Gift. “Lemme go free/Don’t tell me I can’t,” Doe pleads. The lyric echoes a 2017 interview on the PBS show Overheard with Evan Smith. Smith, the Texas Tribune CEO, asked Doe point-blank, “What is punk rock?” Doe, a silver streak now bisecting his black mane, answered before Smith finished: “Freedom.”
The one outlier, ALPHABETLAND’s closer “All the Time in the World,” is Cervenka doing spoken-word over a piano. It’s an odd and clunky choice to conclude the record. But even if the song isn’t an ideal way to end an otherwise formidable comeback album, Cervenka’s lyrics are quite fitting. She looks back on the last 40 years, of the notion of her “youthful infinity” that now appears like mortality. She laments the young punks lost along the way, to “infected needles” and “speeding metal,” the latter likely an allusion to her sister, Mirielle, killed by a drunk driver in 1980 on her way to an X show. Perhaps resurrecting the past in making ALPHABETLAND 35 years later both inflicted pain and gave some needed perspective on life. Either way, she has no regrets: “It was fun while it lasted.” -Pitchfork