Pretty might be pushing it. But anybody who was paying attention back in the day knows The Flesh Eaters were pretty goddamn incredible.
Founded and fronted by punk poet Chris D. (full name: Desjardins), they grew out of the same L.A. scene that spawned The Germs, Black Flag, Fear, Circle Jerks, X, The Gun Club and several other bands that managed to garner more fame and acclaim than D. and co. Some of that was surely due to their sheer sonic weirdness — the unhinged Desjardins howled, warbled and wailed his morbidly literate lyrics like a slightly more restrained Darby Crash, while the band veered wildly from propulsive punk to reggae, roots and whatever else struck their fancy. Another factor in their ignoble fate might have been Desjardins’ drug habits and notoriously antisocial personality, which apparently kept him from keeping a band together for long — even when it included Blasters guitarist Dave Alvin and drummer Bill Bateman, X bassist John Doe and percussionist DJ Bonebrake on vibes, and future Los Lobos sax player and keyboardist Steve Berlin. All of them were on board for the band’s classic 1981 album A Minute To Pray, A Second To Die. And all of them are back in the fold for I Used To Be Pretty, Desjardins’ first Flesh Eaters album in 15 years. As you might expect, it’s more do-over than rebirth: The 11-track disc has just two apparently new originals, fleshed out with updated versions of half a dozen random oldies dating back as far as their first album (but nothing from A Minute to Pray, oddly enough) and three cover tunes. This approach might be good news or bad, depending on what you want from your reunion albums. But here’s something that’s not up for debate: The band are firing on all cylinders, and sound just as great as you’d expect from this crew of seasoned vets. For his part, the manic Desjardins doesn’t seem to have mellowed (or changed his vocal style) in the slightest over the decades. The two new songs — the necromantic opening throwback Black Temptation and the sinister, Stooges-style closing jam Ghost Cave Lament — deliver the high-wire tension and bleak energy of old. The roster of revamped oldies might not include all their highlights — I would have paid money to hear Life’s a Dirty Rat and Eyes Without A Face (no, not the Billy Idol number) — but the updates here definitely don’t sound dated, retreaded or anachronistic. And the covers of Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi, The Sonics’ Cinderella and The Gun Club’s She’s Like Heroin To Me are attacked with enough ferocity to slot seamlessly in with the rest of the set. All in all, pretty satisfying. Even if they’re still way too weird for prime time.