“… it was like white heat with a constant barage of tunes and hardly a cigarette paper between them … you couldn’t have got tighter if you’d been in New Orleans all your life!” (Joe Strummer in 2006, on The Ramones Roundhouse show in 1976)
The meeting of The Pistols, The Clash and The Ramones was one of those pivotal moments when New York’s combustible “Godfathers Of Punk” propelled the British punk scene into action. Dan Sartain‘s Too Tough To Live is a neat homage to his punk idols and marks a departure from the rockabilly and r&b-inspired Dan Sartain Lives released in 2009. 13 songs, 19 minutes! The Clash frontman famously adopted the name “Strummer” because he loved the guitar downstroke so much (and couldn’t play the fiddly bits), and there’s plenty of that here as Sartain slicks forward his quiff and cranks it up for these garage-punk stompers.
Opener ‘Nam Vet’ leaps out of the blocks and immediately brings back memories of Spizzenergi’s ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’, but doing a Who’s Who of Punk would rather defeat the object: Too Tough To Live is a fun rollercoaster ride of a record, so it’s best to just lie back and enjoy it. Worthy of note include songs like ‘Now Now Now’ with its unmistakable homage to Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (also featuring Jane Wiedlin from The Go-Gos on backing vocals to give it some extra zip), and ‘Rona’ (“All the kids wanna go to the show/But I only wanna go if Rona goes”), which reminds me that ‘White Riot’, back in the day, wasn’t much longer than a minute.
Sartain’s put slightly more than a cigarette paper between these songs (let’s say two cigarette papers) and wrapped them up in sneering punk attitude: the world may be on its knees but hey! ‘Fuck Friday’ (“Friday I don’t wanna be seen with the socialites and the drama queens/Saturday I don’t give a fuck if the muscle boys wanna size me up/Sunday you can have a barbecue with a bunch of bums that look just like you!”) and remember that ‘Even At My Worst I’m Better Than You’ (“Even At My Worst I’m Better Than You/Just wanna see if you’re digging it too/I think of you and it makes me sad/It takes all that courage just to look that bad/Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah”). Punk’s not dead, as we can see, but anyway just to make it quite clear, on ‘In Death’ Sartain issues the disclaimer that “I can’t take back what I never sent”.
I can’t see this being more than a pleasant diversion from his other stuff. He’s been playing intimate gigs with the garage-punk material in the first half followed with acoustic versions of his earlier work in the second. So Dan Sartain is mixing it up and shaking himself free from the inevitable Nick Cave comparisons which could have dogged a lesser artist. A smart move, and on the strength of Too Tough To Live, he would seem to be having a really good time about it, too. The new material remains true to the spirit of punk by not worrying too much about who or what it offends, and after the pretty shameful Sex Pistols reunion (which surely had Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone spinning in their respective graves), perhaps he’s restored some pride to the genre.