The unearthing and release of Detroit proto-punks Death’s …For The Whole World To See in 2009 was a cause for celebration. For the decades between its 1975 recording and its subsequent release on Drag City, the band was almost nothing more than a curiosity to collectors, the one single from the album (“Politicians In My Eyes” b/w “Keep On Knocking”) quickly falling out of print and into rarity status. When the seven songs that make up …For The Whole World To See were made available, a crucial part of the punk-rock Rosetta stone was finally filled in. During Death’s initial run, you had a band that could zip along with the nervous energy of the Buzzcocks, or bring jet-fueled aggression along the lines of the Bad Brains, all before either of these bands existed.
Unfortunately, even after considering their unsung legend position, it’s undeniable that Spiritual, Mental, Physical is an extremely frustrating release for a litany of reasons. While it’s pretty cool that the 10 songs that appear here came from some demo tapes that were found in the basement of a different Detroit studio than the one that was used for the recording of World (United Sound Studios), it wouldn’t be too out of line to say that some of the songs should have stayed there instead of being subjected to this kind of vault clearing. In several instances (“The Masks,” “World Of Tomorrow,” “People Look Away”) the track fades out before there is any indication that the song might be over. The final three tracks of the collection are nothing but individual instrumental solos from each of the Hackney brothers, which even then, sound like nothing more than exercises in getting good recording tones. That makes six out of the 10 songs on this collection that sport glaring flaws. Not exactly the best ratio.
These negative aspects make the truly awesome moments on here much more bittersweet. Despite its early cutoff, “The Masks” revolves around a propulsive riff that reinforces the Bad Brains comparison made above, while breaking into a spry, bouncing verse. Opener “Views” unleashes a torrent of spiky guitar riffs and some of Bobby Hackney’s best vocal work, alternating between a punky sneer, a wide-eyed falsetto, and even parts that sound like an impression of a whiny child. “The Change” and “World Of Tomorrow” both get by on strangely pastoral charms, the tinny demo production values actually working in their favor.
Don’t let that number up there fool you. It’s not the music on Spiritual, Mental, Physical that garnered such a rating, it’s the presentation. It almost makes one wish that …For The Whole World To See had been rediscovered a year later, so that this collection could inhabit the bonus disc/LP space that it so clearly would be great for. As a stand-alone collection though, it’s vexingly stunted, and padded out with a few unnecessary additions to fill out its barely 30-minute run time. For a band that has reunited and has quietly decided to continue on with its work instead of merely basking in past glories, Death deserves better than this.