In 2016, when The Numero Group released the comprehensive box set A Place Called Bad
, the Scientists
had mostly faded from the indie rock landscape. While their influence was widely felt in the music of the late '80s and early '90s, with bands like Mudhoney
and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
following noisily in their wake, a couple of decades after their 1987 split, and despite a 2010 one-off reunion for ATP, they were sort of overlooked men. The box serves as a wake-up call to all the aging noise rockers who forgot how great the band was and a clarion call to anyone who may have never heard them but is in the market for a band whose members play each note like their instruments are on fire. Most of all, it's a vital document of one of the truly important bands of the decade. The set collects their early singles, their self-titled 1981 album, their early-'80s singles and EPs, and the You Get What You Deserve
and Human Jukebox
albums, plus a collection of live recordings mostly drawn from a 1983 show, though there are a couple late-'70s tracks too.
Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Kim Salmon, the band started in the late '70s as a tough power pop band with some punk around the edges. Their first single, "Frantic Romantic," is a knucklehead rock classic, and their debut album contains loads of ripping guitar solos and a few more genius pop tunes, like the clanging "Last Night." They seemed on a path to be contenders to the international power pop throne, but along the way they took a darker turn. Due to lineup changes, something that always plagued them, and a change in philosophy, their first post-LP single, 1982's "This Is My Happy Hour" is a grungy slice of swamp rock that featured an amped-up bass sound and Salmon ditching the controlled vocals of the past in favor of something loose and feral. It didn't take very long until they basically perfected their new approach: 1983's Blood Red River
EP is a crash course on uninhibited garage punk with Salmon raving like a maniac and jagged guitar slashes slicing the air above a pounding rhythm section. It's this basic sound that the Scientists stuck with until the end, refining and expanding on it as they went. The fidelity got clearer and the playing more assured, but they never lost the fire that their first forays into the style exhibited.
The You Get What You Deserve
LP is probably their high mark as a group, filled with songs that reach out and grab the listener by the lapels, performances that leave a mark, and a massive sound. Salmon's guitar playing never got any more ferocious than it did here; his work on "Atom Bomb Baby," for one, is breathtaking. On the whole, the music on A Place Called Bad
makes a strong case that the Scientists were one of the best bands of the '80s, especially during their swamp noise years. They had the look, they had the songs, they had the sound, and everything they did burned with the white-hot fire that only the very best groups are able to harness.