The thing about borrowing from punk’s true earliest kings – The Ramones and the Clash, et al – is that you’ve gotta understand what it was they were doing. That is to say, those bands all those years ago were simply trying to speed up rock ‘n roll in a way that hadn’t been done before. Certainly, they wanted to fuck with the Establishment or whatever (honestly, that may have been more along the lines of the Clash and, say, the Sex Pistols, but I digress…), but mainly they just wanted to play at break-neck speed and have some goddamn fun doing it.
Now, punk’s proper forefathers – the Stooges and the New York Dolls – did something a tad different, and it was called proto-punk. They didn’t play as fast as possible. They merely looked at how complicated rock had become and stripped it of all the unnecessary bullshit. Iggy and company returned rock to its ‘50s core: animalistic primitivism set to music. But they did it so well.
This is where Detroit’s punk collective Tyvek come in. On the band’s newest offering, Nothing Fits, it’s clear from the presentation that Tyvek wish punk to be what it started out as – rock n’ roll at is most brutally honest and brutally simplistic. A good chunk of their songs – namely, ‘4312,’ ‘This One or That One’ and ‘Potato’ for starters – consist of two or three chords based around a simple beat and distorted vocals. And they do this version of punk very well. There isn’t a whole lotta thought here, just simpleton aggression and shout-along, caveman-esque lyrics (example: “Fuck the bullshit, I don’t care”). Ya know, the good stuff.
That said, the band runs into trouble when they go from channeling roots-based punk to trying their hand at a Stooges impression. It’s clear that the Stooges – and, to a lesser extent, the New York Dolls – are a rather large influence on Tyvek. ‘Future Junk’ features the best “Flash Gordon” ray-gun guitar I’ve heard in some time, while ‘Underwater To’ has the sexified spiral-boogie that made Ron Asheton famous in the first place. But that’s all these songs have going for them: they’re so very obviously based upon a superior band. Is it still an homage if you, willingly or not, simply blend a band’s legacy into your own sound? They don’t borrow an idea or a sound and take it somewhere else or somewhere new, they just borrow it. When you wear your influences on your sleeve, you have to make damn sure you do more than play a cheap, aimless imitation.
When singer/guitarist “Kev” desperately yells, “Is it this one or that one?/ Somebody tell me, please!” during ‘This One,’ you honestly have to wonder if the question could reasonably be applied to the band itself. It’s an important question because Tyvek have some great ideas here. When they keep inside the modesty of three-chord punk (à la Stiff Little Fingers and, yes, the Misfits), they’re ace. They do that one thing very, very well. It’s loud, abrasive and effective. Hell, you’ll even find a memorable hook in a few of these gems if you look hard enough. But when they try to resurrect a band that couldn’t revive itself (ahem, The Weirdness), Tyvek run off track. After all, hollow replication means nothing if it doesn’t go anywhere. Which is a shame, ‘cause these guys got some talent. Perhaps a few less spins of Raw Power in the recording studio next time, fellas? Fingers crossed.