It’s picayune to complain that the New York Dolls’ and (Iggy and the) Stooges’ recent (cash-in) reunions lowered the bar for aging punk group second takes. Weren’t similar outings by the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Buzzcocks enough to make fans rip the safety pins out of their nipples? Arguably, the only reformed punk monster worth its weight in salt was Mission of Burma, a band that withered in the bloom of its creativity in the ’80s but whose two post-reunion releases outpace most bands half Burma’s age.
Like their Boston contemporaries, the members of Radio Birdman, the best of Australia’s first-wave punk bands, burned through some blistering metal and surf-influenced rock ‘n’ roll before imploding in the late-’70s after being dropped from Sire Records. And, like MOB, Radio Birdman’s first new record in almost thirty years, Zeno Beach, sounds not like a worn-out nostalgia trip but like an actual working band exploding with great ideas.
“We are the warriors/ We wear the shroud,” screams vocalist Rob Younger on opener “We’ve Come So Far (To Make It Here Today),” which suitably rips through the gates and sets a powerful pace for the album that rarely relents. Keyboardist Pip Hoyle’s fluid piano and organ is a refreshing foil to Deniz Tek’s menacing (and underrated) guitar playing. The band’s flirtation with the ominous looms on “Found Dead,” about a dead-before-his-time rock star, and the Blue Oyster Cult-inspired “The Brotherhood of Al Wazah.”
Elsewhere, Birdman revives the familiar Ramones ferocity of its classic “Aloha Steve and Danno,” and the ironic go-go garage of the title track closes the album with a creepy sense of levity. That Zeno Beach sounds like any of the classic material the band recorded in its heyday is simultaneously its overriding strength and greatest fault, because casual listeners may wonder why they should bother with it. Nonetheless, any band old or new that can make rock ‘n’ roll this fierce and concise in 2007 is a gift. Welcome back, boys.