More Fun in the New World (Elektra)
The year 1983 found X churning out its fourth album in as many years. Opening with soaring “The New World,” Doe and Cervenka started out with a scathing indictment of Reaganomics’s failings for the working class and from here, the California foursome shine whether it’s Doe’s soulful phrasing in the character-driven “Poor Girl,” Cervenka’s flirty persona in a playful reading of Otis Blackwell’s “Breathless” and the quartet’s stream-of-consciousness homage to rock and roll called “True Love Pt. #2.”
A quartet of demo remixes are the bonus tracks on this album’s 2002 Rhino Records reissue and include “Devil Doll” and “I Must Not Think
Bad Thoughts.” (To read a feature on X, click here.)
At a time when MTV’s Unplugged program was all the rage, X took a swing at this format and unsurprisingly came away with some excellent results. Billy Zoom was still out of the picture so Tony Gilkyson handled the bulk of the six-string duties as the quartet released this live recording taped at Noe Valley Ministries Presbyterian Church in San Francisco. Fans were treated to a 13-song set that included much-loved faves like “Burning House of Love,” “The World’s a Mess, It’s In My Kiss” and “Because I Do,” which features some unexpected but welcome vibraphone accompaniment by drummer D.J. Bonebrake.
Los Angeles (Slash)
From the first note of guitarist Billy Zoom’s jagged riffs that kick off opening cut “Your Phone’s Off the Hook, But You’re Not” and drummer DJ Bonebrake’s rock solid timekeeping, X’s 1980 debut gets right in your face. Between Exene Cervenka’s flat phrasing and John Doe’s rich bellow, songs like the rockabilly-fueled smart bomb (and controversial) “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene” and the more dirge-ish “Nausea” reveal the seedy side of southern California that was oftentimes seen as surfboards and beautiful people. Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek produces, and plays organ, adding some flourishes to the rollicking closer “The World’s a Mess; It’s In My Kiss.” The 2001 Rhino Records reissue features five bonus track that include demos of “I’m Coming Over” and “Delta 88” and Dangerhouse rough mixes of “Los Angeles” and “Adult Books.”
Wild Gift (Slash)
The band’s 1981 sophomore bow finds the then-married Doe and Cervenka playing their relationship out via the call-and-response foreboding of temptation strewn throughout “White Girl” or the inherent jealousies that return and are strewn throughout the rambunctious “When Our Love Passed Out On the Couch.” Zoom continues to be a riff generator via the Gene Vincent-ish “Beyond and Back” and surf guitar brilliance of “Year 1” while Bonebrake’s razor-sharp timekeeping glues it all together particularly via his textbook double-time punk cadences in the agitated “We’re Desperate,” The 2001 reissue features seven bonus tracks that include single versions of “We’re Desperate” and “White Girl,” a demo of “Blue Spark” and live readings of ““Beyond and Back” and “Back 2 The Base.”
Under The Big Black Sun (Elektra)
The specter of Cervenka’s sister getting killed by a drunk driver hangs over what is arguably the band’s best album, which also wound up being its 1982 major label debut. Harmonies form the bedrock of these 11 songs whether it’s the pounding opening cut “The Hungry Wolf” or the epic “Blue Spark” with its slashing Zoom leads and Bonebrake’s matador-inspired cadences. The pair of songs inspired by Cervenka’s sister—the hypnotically breakneck “Riding With Mary” and its ‘50s-flavored ballad counterpart “Come Back to Me”—are the centerpiece of the album. Other highlights include the flamenco-flavored flourishes of “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and “The Have Nots,” as epic working class anthem as you’ll ever hear. The 2001 reissue doesn’t disappoint as far as bonus track go that include a single mix cover of Otis Blackwell’s “Breathless” and a rehearsal mashup of Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” into “Because I Do.” (To find out John Doe’s X faves, click here.)
The Knitters-Poor Little Critter In the Road (Slash)
This 1985 side project was not an X album per se although the group lineup featured all the band members with Billy Zoom being swapped out for Dave Alvin of The Blasters and Johnny Ray Bartel of The Red Devils on double bass. (Zoom does show up to play macaroni box on “Walkin’ Cane.”) Going acoustic, the band dove headfirst into an all-country/roots outing that found them mixing in killer readings of songs by Merle Haggard (“Silver Wings”), Leadbelly (“Rock Island Line”) and The Carter Family (“Poor Old Heartsick Me”) with stellar repurposed X songs (“Love Shack,” “The New World.”) Despite the original intent was for this to be a one-off country side project, The Knitters would reunite 20 years later with the 2005 followup The Modern Sounds of the Knitters.