It's hard to imagine a band releasing one single in 1972 that barely saw the light of day, let a lone a record store shelf, and managing to come back some 35 years later with something interesting to offer. But, you don't need to listen to the Figures Of Light for very long to realize they're not your average early 70's rock combo. In 2005 Norton records continued in a tradition shared by the likes of Tim Warren (Crypt records and "Back From the Grave " ) and the late Greg Shaw (Bomp! records and "Pebbles"), by releasing another lost gem of seminal embryonic punk rock . Wheeler Winston Dixon (vocals/slide guitar), Michael Downey (rhythm guitar/backing vocals), Phil Cohen (lead guitar), and Dennis Druzbik (bass) were ahead of their time to say the least, and if the New York based label's reissue of their extremely limited 1972 two-sider "It's Lame" b/w "I Jes Wanna Go To Bed" wasn't evidence enough, "Smash Hits" is the nail in the coffin.
As I stood in the record shop holding the LP I had so greatly anticipated, I can't say I was thrilled to find out that more that half the material featured on "Smash Hits" was recorded in 2007. In fact, I left the store with an unshakable feeling that I had been duped, was a victim of "hype", a sucker. After all, it wouldn't have been the first time. But, That feeling was knocked right out of me as soon as the needle hit the groove on what has to be one of the best rock 'n' roll releases of the year. When "Gimme Gimme Gimme" and it's snotty delivery came through the speakers I felt like I was socked hard in the gut, left gasping for breath and stunned. You might think I'm exaggerating, but let me point out first and foremost that I'm a total and complete wuss. And, secondly, whether it's me, you, or some hives/strokes hipster wannabes getting the beating, this record kicks fucking ass, literally and metaphorically speaking. Punk, half a decade before "Punk", covered in sharp two-chord fuzz, seething with angst and frustration, and rooted in garage trash. Dixon and Downey, joined Miriam Linna, Matt Verta-Ray, Marcus The Carcass, Heath Cole (line-ups for more than one recording session) sound like they could hold their own face to face with any of the garage punk outfits around today. If the forty-five second pop nugget "Why Not Knock Yourself Off?" isn't punk rock, than I don't know what is. "Velvet Touch", as the title implies, is an audibly Velvet Underground inspired instrumental and the least aggressive offering of the bunch. The Stooges influence is spread across the board, but the Figures of Light, in reality, precede half the references I'd like to make here. "Ritual TV Smashing Finale" which was pulled from a recording of the original line-ups debut performance in 1970, is a product of show-stopping manic energy. The perfect end note to a night that supposedly started with a motorcycle crashing into a turntable playing Gershwin's An "American In Paris", and ended with around six minutes of pure mayhem set to the tune of 15 television sets being smashed on the stage and the cries of a crowd that may very well, have feared for their lives! (The entire show must be released!) Billy Miller who produced the band's July '07 sessions and Tony Hillhouse who recorded their June '07 studio material, do a fantastic job capturing the raw energy of the original '72 sessions in their respective production efforts. A stripped down and full-throttle, production that has become a standard for rock n roll bands of recent years. Truth be told, outside of the live recordings, if the '07 sessions were just a little grittier they could easily be mistaken for recordings made over three decades ago.