House of Freaks
Monkey on a Chain Gang
Long before Jack and Meg White began bashing out their brand of two-piece garage rock, House of Freaks were showing how it should be done on two fantastic late ’80s records the good folks at Rhino are now re-issuing. 1987’s Monkey on a Chain Gang first introduced us to Johnny Hott’s inventive drum and percussion work and Bryan Harvey’s rockabilly surf guitar and John Lennon-like raw-throated vocals. And the record remains the best example of the House of Freaks joyous rootsy noir sound.
“I hear the pounding of a lone drummer drumming / Brave sounds beating out on the radio,” Harvey sings on “Cactusland.” The duo still sounds brave some 17 years later. That’s true even on a late Cold War, southern jangle pop anthem like “40 Years” that somehow sounds fresh again considering the current state of affairs. “So this is what you’ve left us / A cowboy with a smoking gun / A horse and its companion / Riding alone into the setting sun,” he sings.
The specter of the Cold War also haunts “Dark and Light in New Mexico,” a song about the Los Alamos atomic bomb tests of the 1940s. House of Freaks also take us to spooky western desert-scapes and southern gothic nightmares where you’re likely to meet the devil going on his way.
This terrific re-issue includes a slew of bonus tracks including two b-sides, six spirited live tracks, three early versions of tunes from the album, and a couple of previously unheard songs. If you’re already a fan, you know it’s a treasure trove and if you’re just discovering the Freaks, I envy the listening experience you’re about to have.
Rhino Records: www.rhino.com