Album Review: Druglords of the Avenues – “New Drugs”

You can’t escape talking about the Swingin’ Utters when talking about one of their side project offshoots, not least of all due to the grand legendary shadow that swallows the participation of any one of the members in those other projects. So I won’t try. What I will do, however, is make a case for the right for Druglords of the Avenues, the side project of the Swingin’ Utters’ charismatic singer Johnny Bonnel, to be considered and treated as it’s own beast, a venture apart from its more famous Swingin’ counterpart, rather than an extension or a redundancy of it.

Druglords of the Avenues have been around since 2008, albeit in different incarnations and at varying level of activity. And as well as being a band, was also a song by Filthy Thieving Bastards, which is, for those that don’t know, the folk punk band comprised of three Swingin’ Utters of past and present as well as, notably, none other than Spider Stacy hisself (of that little band called The Pogues, no big deal) on drums.

Druglords the song also appeared in a slightly punkier version on Druglords the band’s first record, entitled simply ‘Sing Songs’ which came out in 2008 and is filled with the same flavour of gritty punk rock that their new, equally ambitiously titled record ‘New Drugs’ has.

It actually is quite surprising how different ‘New Drugs’ sounds from not only the Utters latest release (‘Poorly Formed’) but the Bastards body of work as well, when considering that Bonnel is a main slice of the songwriting pie in all three cases. But, just like a filmmaker will sometimes spend a whole career experimenting in different genres, so too can a songwriter have a variety of itches to scratch, a variety of musical muscles to flex. And Johnny Bonnel’s flexing is impressive in every form.

Which isn’t to say fans of Utters and Bastards will find nothing to fit their taste with Druglords. There are many flickers and winks to both bands to be found buried in the sheets on ‘New Drugs.’

‘Brandy Breath’ is basically a country song, a genre Bonnel’s played with in all his bands (I’m talking real country, not the current pop/rock country crap that infects the airwaves and wood panelled bars like a stubborn virus), with all the twanging and foot stomping inherit, only sped up considerably and filled to brim with fuzzy distortion.

‘Macgowans Seeth’ pays tribute not only in title but in the darkly poetic lyrical style to that invincible Pogues frontman and hero to many, Shane MacGowan. It’s a song with crafty guitar work that feeds into a chorus swelling with huge shout along vocals and a unifying, pint raiser effect on the ears. It’s actually a song that sounds like it’s been around for years and feels instantly familiar without sounding much like anything in particular.

‘This Is A Pig’ might be the best song of this particular lot and is simply a hard charging, catchy slice of aggressive punk purity that you need to watch banging your head to in your car, lest you bash it upon the steering wheel and cause an accident.

‘Forward To Fun’ is an interesting track in that it originally appeared as a b-side on the Swingin’ Utters ‘Brand New Lungs’ 7″. For this version, Johnny has kept the lyrics but totally changed the music. The Utters version is a little dirtier, a little darker sounding with this sped up variation more optimistic in its hooks and crannies. Both versions are great and I don’t prefer one over the other even though they both sound like totally different songs.

‘Might We Dance’ is an interesting sounding song in that I don’t have any idea how to describe it. It’s unique and weird and must simply be experienced to be understood.

‘Such A Bore’ bears the most resemblance to the Swingin’ Utters catalogue, particularly the Utters of the 90’s, but sounds firmly fit and fiddle to sit amongst the songs on ‘New Drugs.’

Johnny Bonnel has to be one of the most gifted songwriters in punk rock today. His lyrics are deep, dark and reflect the poetic sensibilities of a young Tom Waits, Paul Simon or, yes, Shane MacGowan. He’s written, or co-written some of the most impressive and interesting songs in genres as diverse as street punk, country, folk and jazz. Ok, not jazz, but never say never with this guy, there’s still that forthcoming Filthy Thieving Bastards album we’ve all been waiting so patiently for. Until then, tuck in with some ‘New Drugs’ whenever you feel the need for speedy, catchy, gritty punk rock that sounds like it was brewed in the garage and boiled in the streets.

4.5/5 Stars

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