I know what you're probably thinking, but this review is not about some strange underground alternate version of the Marvel movie soundtrack (although I'll admit that would be interesting). Instead, I'm going all old-school on your ass today, with a look back at one of the West Coast's most legendary punk bands. Based in San Francisco, the Avengers were among the coolest female-fronted groups in the genre, and their self-titled 1983 album – better known as The Pink Album – is the only official comprehensive overview of the band's short but intense early career. While the record has been released in various forms over the decades, only this year has the band released the most complete version, in the form of a two-CD set: the first disc contains the original fourteen tracks in the original sequence, and the second features demos, alternate cuts and live recordings of these and other Avengers songs. Read on for a review of this shocking pink powerhouse...
Formed in 1977 by Danny Furious and Greg Ingraham, the Avengers kicked off their short but intense early career with vocalist Penelope Houston, and in that time they released only one studio record: the three-track EP We Are the One. The band famously opened for the Sex Pistols' final show in 1978, drawing the attention of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, who soon produced their self-titled second EP. Sadly, by the time that record was released in 1979, the band had already broken up... but over the years to follow, Furious gathered up a collection of recordings by the band large enough to fill a full-length album, and then some.
The original Pink Album contains most of the tracks from the first two EPs, their single “Paint it Black” (an intense cover of the Rolling Stones classic), and all other recordings omitted from both EP recording sessions. It kicks off with all the songs from We Are the One, beginning with the explosive title track – a rebel battle cry that showcases Houston's tough but sensual vocal style – and continuing through the bass-heavy beat of “Car Crash” and the fist-pumping moshfest “I Believe in Me.” The original tracks from the self-titled '79 EP (the one produced by Steve Jones) are definitely the strongest cuts on the album, especially “The American in Me.” Apparently alternate versions of that song and “Uh-Oh!” replaced the original EP versions, but the energy is just as high and production is excellent, with strong attention to the heavy rhythms and Penelope's commanding voice, often treated with a touch of reverb to add a larger-than-life feel. The track “Corpus Christi” was actually recorded after Ingraham had left the band (replaced by Brad Kent), but easily matches the urgent tone of the earlier songs. The menacing “Open Your Eyes” and the gritty rocker “No Martyr” are also strong repeaters, and the album wraps with the ultimate angry punk anthem, a chaotic screamfest appropriately titled “Fuck You.” Considering how this album is basically a Frankenstein creation, stitched together from many different recording sessions over a three-year period, I was amazed at how well these songs fit together.
Disc 2 is a mixed bag of rarities, including some outtakes from the early 1977 studio sessions including “Money Money,” “Teenage Rebel,” “Friends of Mine,” and “The Good, the Bad, the Kowalskis,” but best of all, it features several live recordings, most of which are taken from their 1978 performance at San Francisco's legendary Winterland Ballroom – the same show where they opened for the Sex Pistols – and from SF's Old Waldorf in 1979. Also unique among the live tracks are “Crazy Homicide,” “Summer of Hate,” “Misery,” “Time to Die” and “Release Me,” none of which have been officially released as studio versions. Definitely a keeper for the live cuts alone... but serious punk fans should also seek out the full set, found on the Avengers album Live at Winterland 1978... which just happens to be the same title as the Sex Pistols album recorded that very same night. Together with this compilation, it's an excellent chronicle of punk's golden age.
The Avengers reformed in 2004 (with Houston and Ingraham the only returning original members), and they've toured the US several times since then. Houston has also maintained a successful solo career, releasing several critically-acclaimed albums of dark-edged folk rock, the most recent being this year's On Market Street. You can find it along with The Pink Album and other releases at her official site.