April 5, 1999
It's all about rock'n'roll....
8 / 10
It's all about rock'n'roll. Not rock (empty posturing, acid-induced rambling in the name of poetry, the unnecessary intellectualisation of the grinding hip). But rock'n'roll: pure, simple, perfect.
Compiling a 1972 live set from French television (MC5's last recorded work), and their rare first two singles, 'Thunder Express' is not as essential as their live debut, 'Kick Out The Jams', but much more than dusty historical artefact or completists-only conceit. It opens with the '72 set, played after the world discovered that the Motor City 5's political interests were foisted upon them by White Panther Svengali John Sinclair. Free of all that bullshit, the MC5 just did what they knew best: rocked out. The set takes in a number of tracks from the liquid frenzy of the '...The Jams' LP; lacking the echoing, seminal chaos of that recording, 'Thunder Express' is a barer, groovier affair.
The hypnotic honey-trap riffs of 'Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa' and Stones cover 'Empty Heart' are irresistible, greasy, pared-down funk with 'Rama Lama...''s nine captivating minutes owing more than a nod in the direction of fellow Detroit native George Clinton.
The lo-fi singles tracks are tighter, more psychotic, the kind of suicidal garage melee the MC5 eventually towered above, but undeniably entrancing in their sinewy, diesel-perfumed R&B lunges. 'Borderline' sounds as if the whole world is collapsing around the MC5, and, recorded in 1968, it probably was. But 'Thunder Express' isn't about the '60s, the White Panthers, yippie-ism or any of that social history. It's about rock'n'roll. And it's fantastic.
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