The Normals
So Bad So Sad
Last Laugh

Until about a year ago, the only remaining relics of The Normals’ existence were the one 7-inch—“Almost Ready” b/w “Hardcore”—that the band had squeaked during their two and a half years and a poorly titled CD comp, Your Punk History, released by the Airline 61 label in the ’90s. Fortunately, Last Laugh Records, whose sister label takes its name from The Normals’ A-side, has in short order remedied that situation, first reissuing the single, then releasing the album that should’ve been, Vacation to Nowhere, a collection of the dozen songs the band recorded in ex-Sweet guitarist Mike Stewart’s studio (simply called “The Studio”) in 1979.

Now the Brooklyn label has put out another compendium of tracks, So Bad So Sad also recorded in ’79, but at another facility. In addition to those 11 cuts, there is also an alternate mix of “Almost Ready” tacked on for good measure. While the recordings are a little rougher around the edges perhaps, these songs reveal once again that the New Orleans band was under-appreciated in their time and after. As is evidenced throughout the record, they adeptly straddled the line between power-pop verve and punk vitriol. On the title track, a jagged guitar lines swerves around catchy choruses and vaguely affected vocals that recall those of Dave Vanian. The juxtaposition is stop-in-your-track jarring and completely irresistible. “Yankee Dollar” points the formula in the direction of The Jam, social commentary being delivered in stilted choruses over a jacked-up tempo for a song equally arresting.

As was the case previously, one quickly realizes that The Normals definitely had something going for them. The material here (and on Last Laugh’s other releases) shows the band to be on par with contemporaries better remembered. It’s hard to think that anything overlooked for so long could be so compelling or riveting, but tracks like “You Took You Got” and “Didn’t Want to See Your Face in the Ground” are as essential as, say, “Teenage Kicks” or “Neat Neat Neat.” Though the band—Charlie Hanson (vocals and guitar), Chris Luckette (drums), Steve Walters (bass) and David Brewton (guitar)—was working with a standard fuel base of a handful of chords and a gut full of spitfire, they hit on the intangible that elevated them above common also-rans. As we’ve learned time and time again, there were countless local punks bashing out two-minute songs around the country during the punk era that went unheard. That doesn’t mean that they are all worthy of excavation, but in The Normals’ case, it’s evident that each buried note deserves to see the light of day.
Stephen Slaybaugh