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Make Up - I Want Some

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Artist: Make Up

Album: I Want Some

Label: M’Lady’s

Review date: Sep. 21, 2012

Living through the active era of Make Up, I can say with some authority that one of the pervading sentiments of the day was that they were a thing more to be endured than appreciated. So what is it, that going on 15 years after they’ve ceased operations, makes me bemoan their absence? Sure, sure, you don’t miss your water and all — but unpacking what made Make Up such a powerful and divisive entity is complicated, even now.

For starters, there were the obvious po’-faced authenticity issues to be addressed, like why is this white ex-politico-punk up there yelping and jumping around like Little Richard at a Baptist revival? Similar charges were leveled in the direction of Jon Spencer at the time — ones he leveled by putting on a show that made his whole “thing” hard to argue with. Of course the Blues Explosion made no overtures at being anything other than a great rock ‘n’ roll band, something Ian Svenonius couldn’t do if his life depended on it.

Not that this should be construed as a discredit to his career. While they’re both confrontational, old-world showmen in their own right, Svenonius’s trajectory has acted as the meta/contrarian yang to Spencer’s brash, balls-out swagger. Point being, Svenonius doesn’t really make music, art, or probably even breakfast free of subtext. Make Up picked up where Svenonius’ paranoid socio-political attack left off with Nation of Ulysses, buttressing his rattled howlings with a scrappy soul that matched the frantic outbursts issuing forth. In an alternate dimension, this might have been an ace party band, spreading the gospel yeh-yeh to frat houses from coast to coast. In this dimension, it was punk houses and laundromats that proved to be their provenance.

Make Up were a highly contentious and confusing entity, but like a lot of confrontational statements no one knows what to do with in the moment, time has brought clarity. They easily alienated more Nation of Ulysses fans than they endeared, while also managing to deeply offend nearly everyone else in the indie/punk scene in some way or other. The albums for the most part weren’t that great either, de-toothing the best live songs with limpid production. But it was still those guys from Nation of Ulysses, and people went to see them. They were the band you loved to hate (but still bought all their records).

When their singles collection, I Want Some, originally hit the streets, the band was all but history. Oddly fitting then, that this is the one single release that manages to make sense of it all. As with the soul combos they were referencing, most of their finest material never appeared on an album (with the possible exception of their “Hey Joe” cover). Maybe it was the immediacy of recording singles, but across the board, the performances here catch spark in a way the albums never could, getting across the frenzied energy of the live show. The best songs here undercut the self-seriousness the group were saddled with, betraying a sense of humor and self-awareness few gave them credit for at the time. There are 23 songs here, and pretty much all of them are unmitigated rippers. If you don’t still feel the power of a song like “R U A Believer” then you really aren’t, and consider your white belt officially confiscated.

By Jon Treneff

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