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They Want Your Skulls

Most Misfits fans think their reunion is pretty scary--and not in a Halloween kind of way. Can 'Project 1950' change their minds?

By Steve Palopoli

If you're not familiar with East Coast punk legends the Misfits, the first thing you should know is that they're infamous for songs with lyrics like "I got something to say, I killed your baby today"; "The blood drips down like the devil's rain, we'll bathe tonight"; and "Sweeter than wine, softer than the summer night, everything I want I have whenever I hold you tight."

Hold on, you're thinking, one of these things is definitely not like the others. Indeed, the first two lyrics are from outrageous early songs ("Last Caress" and "Skulls") written by original Misfits frontman Glenn Danzig. The third is from the shiny, happy Jay and the Americans pop hit "This Magic Moment," which the reunited, Danzig-less Misfits covered on their most recent record.

It's enough to make you think the name Misfits--once the gold standard of gutterpunk--has lost all meaning. But the truth is that this band's whole "reunion" thing has been a sham since the beginning, when the remnants of the original group made the first of two crappy albums with a talentless replacement singer in 1997. Ironically, it's only with this latest release, Project 1950, that Misfits 2.0 has started to show signs of having any point at all. And for the record, their "This Magic Moment" cover is pretty fucking great.

Demonomania

All this horror business originally began in 1977 when Danzig and bassist Jerry Only named their band after Marilyn Monroe's last film. The band released singles and EPs while shifting its lineup and building its increasingly extreme fringe-culture image, an identity soaked in B-movie fake blood and cartoony occultism. It sounds trite, and it certainly was, but what the Misfits did for punk rock, especially on their 1982 album Walk Among Us, should not be underestimated: they made it totally unacceptable again. My own theory is that the Ramones' song "Chainsaw" has never gotten the credit it deserves for providing the musical and thematic blueprint for the band's career, but that's neither here nor there. Danzig took the bloody ball and ran with it, and if I may risk for a moment sounding like a total moron, I'd say the Misfits' songs taken as a whole actually lay out a pretty vivid and oddly literate mythology, a gritty EC Comics for punk music that has held up better than far less funny and catchy bands like 45 Grave or Cannibal Corpse that tried to sound evil or dangerous but were mostly just boring. It didn't hurt that Danzig could sing the hell out of these songs.

The problem was that at the time, nobody noticed. The Misfits couldn't get anyone to put out their first album, Static Age, and though Walk Among Us would later fetch unbelievable prices on the collector's market until it was reissued, you couldn't pay someone to buy a copy when it originally came out.

All Hell Breaks Loose

So the Misfits didn't become a legend until long after they had broken up, thanks almost entirely to covers of their songs done by a legion of hip bands. The most important cover was probably Metallica's 1987 recording of "Last Caress" (with another Misfits song, "Green Hell"); it had scores of kids scouring the racks for Misfits records that had barely ever been in print in the first place. A few years later, Guns N' Roses' cover of "Attitude" proved to that band's fans that someone with an even worse one than Axl Rose's was out there. (The really creepy thing was that in Axl's hands, the violent lyrics didn't sound like a joke.) At this point, even the most unlikely acts have paid tribute to the Misfits: Hank Williams III covers "We Bite" live, and the Lemonheads' angsty, acoustic version of "Skulls" is--against all odds--arguably one of the greatest covers of all time.

They Bit

Perhaps it's not surprising that a band that had waited so long to get their due would turn up again; in any case, while Danzig was suddenly on MTV and writing songs for Johnny Cash as a solo artist, Jerry Only and his brother Doyle (who had also played with the Misfits' first incarnation) formed a new band with the same name. Most fans were aghast--and not in a good way. It wasn't so much that the new songs were so bad--they were so-so Danzig imitations--but the vocalist they hired, Michale Graves, was atrocious.

On Project 1950, though, Graves is gone. Jerry Only has taken over vocals, and his appropriately quirky bellow makes you wonder why he didn't just do the singing in the first (well, OK, second) place. It's basically an album of '50s tunes, which, considering what cover songs have done for this band, only seems fair. You still gotta wonder if they really need to cash in on the Misfits name to do what they're doing these days, but Project 1950 is by far the most interesting thing to come out of this reunion, and if this is what they'd released when they first reformed back in 1997, I guarantee you they wouldn't have taken nearly so much flak.


The Misfits play Tuesday, Oct. 26, at 8:30pm at the Catalyst, with Agent Orange opening. Tickets are $15/advance, $20/door for the 16-and-over show. (831.423.1336). Steve Palopoli also hosts 'Repeater,' an all-covers music show, on KUSP-FM (89.3) on Wednesdays at 2am.

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From the October 20-27, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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