While the punk rock movement may have virtually overhauled the British music industry, in America, it made a relatively small impact on its popular music. Except for maybe the Talking Heads, who later smoothed out its rough edges, the slicker offspring of punk called new wave was what the Americans seemed to find more palatable. As a result bands like California's X had to settle for a mostly regional following who appreciated influential music when they heard it. 1980's LOS ANGELES was when X first committed their frenzied live act into a studio setting.
Former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek (also a California native) had some success post-Doors as a producer & was charged with helping X develop an identity in the studio. While as time went on, X would go for a much cleaner sound & approach, Manzarek pretty much let the band just play live on LOS ANGELES (with the occasional overdub like Ray Manzarek's organ). The result was an audio snapshot of the punk scene in California that showed so much potential to reach national acclaim, but that didn't happen but posthumously.
From the start, it was clear that X was probably the most talented & accomplished of the California punk bands & this is proven with the vocal harmonies between bassist John Doe & vocalist Exene Cervenka that no other punk band could claim. Songs like the sped-up cover of The Doors' "Soul Kitchen" (probably a tribute to their illustrious producer), "Sugarlight", "Sex & Dying In High Society", "The Unheard Music" & the epic closer "The World's A Mess; It's In My Kiss" show the prominent set-up of Exene (or Doe) singing solo with the other later chiming in on the chorus & occasionally on the verses. This turned out to be the folk influence coming to the fore & this was just one of many things X had on their fellow punk rockers.
But while those songs had a certain dark cuteness (but not cloyingly so) to them, the other songs on LOS ANGELES are considerably darker & more brutal in their sonic assault. "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not" (how a break-up song should sound, angry & pummeling), "Johnny Hit & Run Paulene" (a frightening tale of date rape), "Nausea" & the title track leave the listener breathless with their deafening volume & run-for-your-life tempo. These songs also foreshadow the riot-grrl movement by about a decade with Exene's occasionally venomous delivery.
Thanks to the good people at Rhino Records, X's classic albums have been remastered to give them a modern polish, but not sacrifice their volume & even a few bonus tracks. LOS ANGELES' bonuses come from the late 1970s when X was just beginning to build a live reputation. Songs like "I'm Coming Over" & "Adult Books" appear in very rough early versions that would later be revisited for 1981's WILD GIFT album. "Delta 88" is a demo that wouldn't appear for the first time until their 1997 anthology BEYOND & BACK, while "Cyrano De Berger's Back" would first be recorded by obscure punkers The Flesh Eaters before X gave it a go on 1987's SEE HOW WE ARE. "Los Angeles" first appeared on an EP called YES L.A. in 1979 before it got the more "professional" airing it did on LOS ANGELES.
It's a shame that a band like X, who had so much drive to make it on a bigger level, would only have a cult following beyond their loyal California fan base. But albums like LOS ANGELES have since been getting their due as proof that America did have one foot in the punk explosion of the late 1970s-early 1980s, even if its impact was rather limited. Now that X has virtually been around for more than 25 years (they've been on an extended hiatus for years), they could best be called the longest-lasting punk band in history & an album like LOS ANGELES is probably the high-water mark in a career that only has a little to show for it, all of it magnificent.