The notion of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and Damned founder Brian James forming a band is enough to warm the heart of most any aging rock & roll reprobate, but the good news is that their project, Mad for the Racket, actually has more going for it than a few interesting names. Of course, Kramer and James aren't the only recognizable folks on board ...
The notion of MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and Damned founder Brian James forming a band is enough to warm the heart of most any aging rock & roll reprobate, but the good news is that their project, Mad for the Racket, actually has more going for it than a few interesting names. Of course, Kramer and James aren't the only recognizable folks on board; ex-Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan plays on all 12 tracks, while Stewart Copeland of the Police, Clem Burke from Blondie, and Brock Avery of Kramer's solo band all take turns handling percussion duties. The Racketeers, the ad hoc group's first album, finds all parties involved in strong form; Kramer and James trade off on lead vocals and guitar solos, and Brother Wayne's contributions are certainly up to the high standards of his excellent albums for Epitaph, especially the manic "Prisoner of Hope," the dark and politically charged "Czar of Poisonville," and his musical tribute to CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour. Brian James' offerings aren't quite so strong or confident, but given the peaks and valleys of his career, The Racketeers finds him in very fine form; his songs rock with a tough, bluesy undercurrent, his lyrics are both streetwise and sardonically witty (lots of guys might sing about getting their car stolen, but James follows that up with: "I gotta take the bus downtown/Aw, s**t!," and you can be assured it makes all the difference), while his voice seems to have acquired the British equivalent of a Southern drawl, and the twang fits him like a glove. McKagan and the assorted drummers add up to a muscular, efficient rhythm section, and the yin and yang of Kramer and James works like a charm. Mad for the Racket's debut won't make you forget what any of these guys have done in the past, but it doesn't tarnish anyone's reputation, either, and if you ever dug anything on the prior résumés of the headliners, you'll certainly find something to like here. In 2004, three years after the album was first released, The Racketeers was reissued with some puzzling changes; the billing changed from Mad for the Racket to Wayne Kramer & Brian James, and the title of the disc became Mad for the Racket, with The Racketeers falling to the dustbin (except on the spine, where the old billing remained). The album also sprouted two bonus tracks, rehearsal recordings of the songs "Nuts for You" and "Tell a Lie," which would have sounded good enough within the context of the album but are hardly lost classics; hardcore collectors might consider buying the album again to have them, but most fans will sleep just fine without them. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi