In 1976, a few years before they were in The dB's, Chris Stamey and Will Rigby were in Sneakers. The band's output has been the stuff of legend, especially for those of us without access to collectible vinyl. Now, thanks to the good folks at Omnivore Recordings, the 6-track EP from the band has been re-issued along with 3 bonus cuts. The vinyl version of this release is limited to 1,500 copies and they come with a download card. I urge you to get this when it's released on Black Friday. Skip the shopping. Get this instead!
"Ruby" kicks things off. What's remarkable about this cut is how very modern it sounds. When the rest of the world seemed to be following the lead of The Ramones or The Clash, Stamey and his boys in Sneakers were translating the herky-jerky angst of Talking Heads into something closer to power pop in the style of the more upbeat Big Star cuts. More Chilton-ish than Knack-ish, "Ruby" and the other 8 cuts here are lost gems so good as to make a listener positively shocked at the fact that they weren't re-issued like this already.
"Condition Red" is more straightforward while the sublime "Driving" somehow crams a Velvet Underground-style skewed melody line into what could very easily be a Jonathan Richman song. The tune is artful in its seemingly casual artlessness. Unwinding with a very non-punk sense of melody, "Driving" provides proof why Sneakers are worth catching up with now. Not only is the cut an indication of future greatness from Stamey and The dB's but it's also a sort of template for the bands of the power pop boom that would erupt at the end of the 1970s. Sneakers are, however, infinitely better than the thousand skinny tie bands that would follow.
"Love's Like a Cuban Crisis" is chiming tunefulness while "On the Brink" sounds a bit like what contemporaries Cheap Trick would do on their debut album in 1977 but without the noisy bits -- think "Mandocello" made more concise.
There follows a cover of "Let's Live For Today" by The Grass Roots and then "Story of a Girl" which is easily worth the price of this release alone. The equal of anything Big Star's Chris Bell would commit to vinyl later -- Stamey's label put out not only the Sneakers EP but Bell's "I Am the Cosmos"/"You and Your Sister" single -- the song is haunting and affecting. A real revelation for any fan of power pop and not just fans of The dB's. A precursor of the sound of early R.E.M. is here with 2 future producers of that band at work on this EP (Don Dixon as engineer and Mitch Easter contributing guitar and drums to this track).
"Nonsequitar" and "S'il Vous Plait" round out this set and both are hints of the sort thing that Stamey would produce later in his career, both with The dB's and as a solo artist.
This is an amazing piece of history and a potent reminder of just what a great songwriter Chris Stamey was (and still is, for that matter). What strikes a listener first about these 9 cuts is how surprisingly modern they sound given the era in which they were recorded. Somehow, caught between the extremes of punk and disco, Sneakers managed to craft something this good and real. Omnivore Recordings are providing music fans a true gift here. One listen to "Story of a Girl" should be enough to convince you that these 9 cuts have more appeal than as just showcases of the admittedly talented geniuses who eventually formed The dB's.
Sneakers by Sneakers is out on Friday, November 28, 2014, via Omnivore Recordings.