Real Gone

It is with good reason that the lone album by Los Angeles’ Germs has continued to be regarded as a seminal document in the punk canon. Aside from capturing the band before frontman Darby Crash died of a self-inflicted drug overdose, (GI), a.k.a. “Germs Incognito,” is a bristling bridge between the band’s New York and London predecessors and the faster, barbarous hardcore about to spring from Southern California with gushing force in the coming years. As such, the album, originally released in 1979 on Slash Records, has once again been reissued after falling out-of-print on CD for some years.

The band was rounded out by future Nirvana and Foo Fighters member Pat Smear on guitar, bassist Lorna Doom, and drummer Don Bolles, who subsequently played with 45 Grave. As witnessed on cuts like “What We Do Is Secret” and “Lexicon Devil,” the Germs were not your typical bunch of knuckleheads banging out primitive songs to the same generic beat. Even playing at breakneck speed, the band took the opportunity for nuance and erraticism wherever they found it, and the record is all the better for it.

Nonetheless, Crash is still the star of the show, his delivery ratcheting the record to the next level. Throughout the album, he snarls out each syllable—and I’m not speaking metaphorically, he literally growls out the lyrics, unable to control his ferity. Even when Crash spits out cold war–era lines on “Communist Eyes,” it’s hard not to be taken in by the severity of his vocals. In some ways, Crash seemed a victim of punk’s worst cliches, but his charisma is apparent on (GI). Joan Jett’s production is thin in places (the drums sound consistently thin), but Darby’s bark comes through loud and clear. On tracks like “Strange Note” and “Our Way” he twists his annunciation, strangling each syllable into warped a form as notable for the way it sounds as what it means.

There’s been different iterations of this album, and many listeners are perhaps more familiar with the MIA anthology that compiles the rest of the band’s recordings with (GI). Completist impulses aside, this is the way to hear the band, in undiluted form. Real Gone has added “Caught in My Eye,” a track originally pegged for a single and left off. It’s in fact a better note to end on than “Shut Down,” the nine-minute live opus that originally closed out the record. Even if Darby had lived, the Germs may not have made it to another album, but it’s hard not to hear the “what if” lurking in the grooves. As it is, this is still one for the ages.
Stephen Slaybaugh