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This review is from: Thunder Express (Audio CD)
Recent years have seen a pile of semi-official MC5 product unleashed, most of which has generally been on the hit-or-miss side when it comes to quality of audio. Thunder Express is without doubt the best of these releases in terms of fidelity, but sadly its not without its flaws.
The album consists of two sections, the first a live concert recording from 1972 and the second a small collection of early singles A and B sides.
The big negative with the live concert is what seems to be tape damage, of varying intensity, across the first three tracks. The opening couple of tracks are so badly effected they almost sound like open-air audience recordings (alebit excellent ones) suffering the Doppler-effect of the wind. Track three sees a marked decrease in this "swooshing", but it's not until track four, the title track, that the sound quality notably leaps up a notch and the swooshing, muffling and throbbing anomalies prevalent across the previous tracks largely disappear. Once you reach the next track, Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa, the sound quality is near enough in the same league as a regular soundboard recording .....by which time, unfortunately, you're only one song away from the end of the performance.
As for the performance, it's ok, but this was the MC5 at the end of the road. It's a good enough show but lacks the band's usual instrumental intensity. In MC5 terms it's a pedestrian gig. If you doubt that, compare it with the live Beat Club performance from the same year (sadly only available on DVD at present), which completely kills this show in terms of energy and improvisation. Kick Out The Jams alone from that session wipes the floor with the entirety of this gig. If only somebody would licence that performance for CD release.
The latter half of Thunder Express consists of 4 studio recordings from 1966 -1968, showcasing the MC5's rather visceral "pre fame" garage band sound. A few crackles and pops here and there betray vinyl origins, and the third of these tracks, the single version of Looking At You, is quite badly distorted - although its such a powerful recording (making the "Back In The USA" version sound tame in comparison) the overlying fuzz almost sounds deliberate, as if the music is literally fizzing out of the grooves. The final track, Borderline, has the same distortion but coupled with a hugely overwhelming bass.
So to sum up, I'd say Thunder Express is more of interest to the already converted than those seeking enlightenment.
With better sound quality I probably would have rated the live half of this album with 4 stars and the studio half with 5. As things stand, I can only give it a 3.