The Oblivians aren’t what you’d call a household name, but those who know, know. And they know better. The Memphis trio’s sleazy rock and soul burned hot before fizzling out in 1997 after the release of their third and final studio record, Play 9 Songs With Mr. Quintron. But during their five-year run the Oblivians were the South’s answer to Detroit’s The Gories, and would eventually tour with them.
And while the band itself has for the most part faded into oblivion, the members have gone on to some noteworthy ventures. Jack Yarber—better known as Jack Oblivian—went on to play in a number of equally rawkish bands. Eric Friedl founded indispensible garage rock label Goner Records. And Greg Cartwright formed the criminally underrated Reigning Sound. Now, some two decades later, these 40-somethings return to the pissy, sweaty, boozy scene of the crime with Desperation.
The cheeky title makes sense for most reunion albums. But Desperation’s greasy, grimy garage rock sounds natural, which is especially surprising coming from Cartwright, who has since penned some tender pop gems with the Reigning Sound on records like Home For Orphans and Time Bomb High School. “Come a Little Closer” and opener “I’ll Be Gone” come closest to Cartwright’s recent work, with just enough slop on top to make them Oblivians material. Even Friedl’s “Woke Up In a Police Car,” with its mookish tale, sounds more refined. The record’s best song—the semi-anthemic “Little War Child”—is pristine power pop with a perfect dusting of grit.
But the Oblivians’ rawk has always had soul. And the balance between the band’s earlier work and what has come since makes Desperation a solid slab o’ garage rock that should make the kiddies take notice. I mean c’mon, a punk band that boasts one of the finest American songwriters? Lethal.