The Nails: Mood Swing DLX RM US CD 
- Every Time I Touch You
- Dark Brown
- 88 Lines About 44 Women
- Home of The Brave
- Let It All Hang Out
- Mood Swing
- Phantom Heart
- Juanita Juanita
- She Is Everything To Me
- White Wall
- 88 Lines About 44 Women [remix]
- Let It All Hang Out [remix]
It might have been a stretch of Halloween when Cassandra [“Elvira”] Peterson was guest-hosting MTV when I first heard The Nails. She had great taste and always played obscuro things that were head and shoulders above the usual MTV fare. The clip was for a single called “Let It All Hang Out” and I was taken in by singer Marc Campbell’s revivalist intro to the cover of the dementedly surreal regional hit single from The Hombres in 1967. The album was called “Mood Swing” and I kept a peeper peeled for it in my usual haunts; finally scoring a copy in less than a year in those heady times.
I never sold off my RCA LP, thinking that one day it would be ripe for REVO remastering, but before I could get to it, in the sky high stack of projects, the band themselves remastered it to CD in 2007. It seemed to be available from the band themselves on their website, but I saw it nowhere else. Until cruising the hallowed aisles of Amoeba last year. In the intervening three decades, I managed to score the occasional Nails record; amassing both of their 1981 Jimboco releases which were pre-RCA material. I liked what I heard, and really pined for one song in particular from them. The CD was a must-buy when I came across it.
The band had staked out a claim in the no-man’s land between New Wave, mainstream 1984 rawk, and roots rock. They were eclectic, to put it mildly. The guitars/drums/keys basics were seasoned with sax and vocalist Marc Campbell held it all together with a theatrical, self-aware flair that put his powerfully low voice to good use. Tracks ranged from straight ahead rockers not too far from MTV weight to the breakout non-radio “hit” “88 Lines About 44 Women.” The latter was pure minimal synthpop; basically a Casiotone canned beat with Campbell rapping couplets about female archetypes both real and imagined. The melody was hummed. Anyone who has heard it won’t soon forget it. It’s one of those songs that skirts novelty except for the fact that it is far too lasting and perceptive a commentary to do a quick fade in the pop cult mindset. There’s a hint of satire mixed in Campbell’s fleeting observations that attains a sort of compassion in toto through the sheer number of them.
“Oh god of hell, I said “I love this suit,”
That the devil gave me to wear to Beiruit
Where the whores are dancing on the table tops
And the jukebox plays… apocalyptic bebop” – Home Of the Brave
After that song comes the reason why I have held this album in such high esteem for over 30 years. I remember the first time I was spinning this wax and even then, on first play, “Home of The Brave” jumped right out at me and grabbed me by the lapels. Here was a single song on an album that managed to vividly paint a picture of an entire world in its brief, five minute running time. This wasn’t just a song; it had the heady feel of an entire novel, rendered into song. I can’t help but feel that this is what Warren Zevon had been shooting for during his entire career. The pulpy ‘Nam Vet structure took flight down many brightly lit side streets before coming home to rest in a bus station, complete with foley effects and a quote from “On Broadway” before wrapping on an ultimate line that just hit like a ton of bricks. It remains one of my favorite songs thirty years later and wow, is it nice to have it on a CD to listen to. Sometimes on repeat.
“Let It All Hang Out” was a slice of Memphis garage punk that got a coat of new wave paint, primarily courtesy of Jimmy Bralower and his “electronic drum enhancement” as the credits duly noted. It remains a great three minute pop single, generations later, though I’ve never heard The Hombres original. A sample in the iTunes store reveals a thin, trebly slice of monophonic Farfisa garage rock with what sounds like a deranged hick singing. The Nails cover, in contrast, sounds as if Trevor Horn had produced the cut, comparatively speaking. The phased rhythm track sounded massive and the sax fills and Hammond organ made the weedy Farfisa [as much as I love ‘em] from the original seem paper thin. They also managed to add a whole minute to the still svelte 3:00 track with all of the musical fills that were crammed into the skeletal structure of this song.
The tense rocking title track was another plus as what was side two played through. The band jumped all over the musical checkerboard with the moody ballad “Phantom Heart” and the apocalyptic closer “White Wall” sounding like the work of completely different minds. From what I’d heard Neneh Cherry say about this band [she sang with them briefly in the early days] they were [according to her] a ska band in that period, but their roots go even deeper and funkier. They began life in 1975 as The Ravers in Boulder, Colorado, with a few indie 45s to their name before moving to NYC and grabbing for that big brass ring. In a truth is stranger than fiction factoid, Jello Biafra started out as their roadie. So by the time they recorded their debut album nine years into this thing, they were pretty flexible and could probably do anything they wanted to.
The bonus tracks on this CD were the 12” mixes of their two hits, “88 Lines About 44 Women” and “Let It All Hang Out” as remixed [at Sigma Sound, no less] by Richard James Burgess of Landscape fame. They hold up well to the treatment, even though the latter was taken to an epic 6:18 in length via Burgess’ sonic dubspace. The beefed up rhythm track and new hints of further synth melody managed to make “88 Lines” into something that might actually get club play, and every little bit helps. I’ve been listening to this disc quite a bit and it’s a real pleasure to finally have the CD of this. The album is still available [on CD] from the band’s webstore with the usual web retailers offering the DL copy for the non-corporeal among us.
– 30 –