MC5, Sonically Speaking:
A Tale of Revolution and Rock 'n' Roll
(Brett Callwood)
Independent Music Press

'Sonically Speaking' charts the pre-emptive punk of Chicago's MC5 from inception all the way through solo careers and finally ending on their glorious re-union. The MC5 have often been cited as an influential source over bands and solo artists as far ranging as Rage Against The Machine and Jeff Buckley . Their first album, Kick Out The Jams, was recorded live at the Detroit Grande Ballroom in 1968, a technique unheard of at the time and still rare to this day. Such was the ferocity of their performances, the band felt that the only way to adequately communicate with their audience was through the release of a record which would give a new listener a glimpse into the chaos and the fury which surrounded the band and the driving force behind their politics.

Courting controversy from the very outset, they were arguablly more visceral and challenging to the socially accepted norm than The Doors, The Rolling Stones or The Who (who had also pre-empted what would later become punk rock some nine years later) with record stores refusing to stock their record and all other records released on the same lable. Often, the band would take to the stage in support slots and obliterate the headlining band (Cream being one of the most notable of these occurances).

Unfortunately, due to poor record sales as a result of even poorer marketing, Atlantic records dropped them from their line up in 1972 and while the band continued to limp on (even after bassist Mike Davies was ejected from the group for the use of heroin) they broke up amid acrimony in 1973.

Brett Calwood's book examines the many intricate layers which went to building the MC5 by going direct to the source; the band, the family members, the friends, much to the benefit of the book. Unfortunately, and somewhat understandably, the interviewees' memories can be somewhat hazy at best, which can make for a very protracted and unsatisfying read, but the story of the band's inception, their performances and their passions is essential reading for anyone who wants to start a band amidst seemingly overwhelming mediocrity and ambivalence. Unlike many other rock bios, 'Sonically Speaking' spends as much time on each band member's respected solo career and family life as it does on the MC5 themselves, giving the reader a more rounded and appreciative response to the books integral message; that despite the apathy that surrounded their split in the 1970's, the MC5 are an incredibly important and influential source for innumerably hard rock and punk bands then and now, and that one should never be afraid to dabble in music and politics at the same time.

Richey Peaches

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