Dirtbombs drop shell on America, explode rep as one-trick pony
Words Ben Graham
In the words of singer Mick Collins, The Dirtbombs’ new album, We Have You Surrounded, is a concept album about “the United States’ slide into a police state”. It’s an album where even the love songs have a political, apocalyptic edge, a howl of protest on behalf of a people with their backs up against the wall. “You don’t live in a vacuum any more than I do,” Mick explains on ‘Indivisible’, before sarcastically apologising for raining on our parade on ‘Pretty Princess Day’. Even a cover of Sparks’ 1982 obscurity ‘Sherlock Holmes’ fails to lift the aura of menace and heavy manners.
The album’s centrepiece, and one of the first songs to be recorded, is ‘Leopardman at C&A’. The surreal, nightmarish lyrics were written by Alan Moore for the graphic novelist’s old Northampton buddies Bauhaus, but never used. They originally appeared in illustrated form in Negative Burn #35 in 1996, and were reprinted in Alan Moore’s Songbook a couple of years later.
“I’d seen the lyrics and really liked them,” explains Mick, an even bigger comic book nerd than me. “I’d heard that it was a song written for Bauhaus, but I couldn’t find any actual song. So in the end I thought, ‘Ah, to heck with it, I’ll just write my own music.’ And that’s how that came about. I never actually met Alan Moore, although I would like to.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Mick is also a big Bauhaus fan.
“I’ve been a Bauhaus fan since I first heard them, which was probably in 1980,” he enthuses. “I think they’re great. The only thing I don’t like as much as I like everything else is their version of ‘Telegram Sam’, which is fine, but I really prefer the original.”
It’s this diverse range of influences, from seventies glam rock and art school experimentation (Eno, Silver Apples) to the experimental post punk of Wire and Pere Ubu, that make The Dirtbombs far more than just the garage rock band with soul and R&B overtones that they’re forever pigeonholed as, due perhaps in part to coming from Detroit and having a black man up front.
“Oh yes, it’s very annoying,” Mick laughs. “I don’t necessarily think it’s racist so much as just narrow-mindedness in the music media. Just because I have an R&B basis, therefore I’m sort of in a box; no matter what I do, it’s gonna be called garage rock.”
And yet on the new album you’ve got something like ‘The Race to The Bottom’, which is pure electronic free noise, and as far from garage rock as you can go.
“That was coming sooner or later,” Mick says. “There was never any intention of being any sort of a genre; I deliberately made the band as difficult to describe as possible. I thought that was what I was doing. But somehow we just got pigeonholed anyway.”