Death - Spiritual Mental Physical

Created on Thursday, 18 August 2011 Written by Jamie Rake

Death Spiritual Mental Physical Drag City as reviewed in The Phantom TollboothA blistering little slab of of post Stooges/pre-Ramones politically and spiritually charged power trio raucousness, the album also figures oddly into Christian rock history.

Spiritual Mental Physical
Drag City

In 2009, Drag City Records unearthed a missing link of sorts in the development of U.S. punk rock by releasing ...For The Whole World To See, the unreleased and only album from 1974 by Detroit African-American sibling threesome Death. A blistering little slab of of post Stooges/pre-Ramones politically and spiritually charged power trio raucousness, the album also figures oddly into Christian rock history, as the Hackney brothers comprising Death would morph into highly regarded (with highly collectible albums) psychedelic blues rockers The 4th Watch. This all occurred before guitarist David Hackney died and the other two siblings moved to Vermont and formed the reggae band (non-Christian, apparently) Lambsbread.

While we who had our socks knocked off by that Death album wait for Drag City, or some other enterprising label, to reissue The 4th Watch's two longplayers, there's reason to rejoice. Death demo's have been found and issued as the peculiarly tantalizing Physical Mental Spiritual.

Though it has ten tracks, the album feels something like a glorified EP. Each member's allotted an instrumental to show off their respective skills, but before that, there are a few actual songs.  And they're all at least pretty good.

Most familiarly, "The Masks" reprises the melody of The Beatles' "Got To Get You Into My Life" between noisier squalls of punkiness in order to bemoan the break-up of The Fab Four. Playing to the bros' own rockstar aspirations, "Give Me A Thrill???" positions the hoary tableau of rockers on the road against a gutter glam freakout. More Aglophilia, specifically for The Move's/Electric Light Orchestra's "Do Ya" (though bassist brother Bobby cites The Who, in which case maybe it's "Pictures of Lily"?) comes to mind melodically on "People Look Away," a rumination on the misunderstanding non-rockers have of those who dress the part of their musical lifestyle.

A more complex outworking of rock'n'roll personal politics comes together on opening track "Views," wherein band, management and fans interact over exactly what's expected of people's musical idols. "World of Tomorrow" more hopefully looks at the world to come, if not necessarily in eschatalogical terms.

Since these are demoes, don't come to SPM expecting even the clarity of the only "proper" Death album.  The rawness here, however, is definitely part of the music's charm, even if a lyrics sheet might have proven helpful.

Neither come here expecting much even of the often coded Chirstian allusions of the Hackeys' second band. But if these kids who were certainly outsiders among their black peers for playing  scuzzy, unvarished rock, while others may have expected them to make R&B or funk, can inspire others of their color to follow a non-traditional sonic path-and do it anywhere near as well as this-Death's influence continues to live on for musical good.

-Jamie Lee Rake


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