Album: SAVAGE REPUBLIC – 1938 (Neurot NR053 2007)


Savage Republic first emerged out of the Los Angeles underground at the beginning of the eighties. They created a percussion heavy amalgam of industrial music and post punk, dominated by tribal drumming, chanted vocals and punk-funk basslines. None of the quartet that recorded the debut Tragic Figures in 1981 is present in the current line-up. Thom Fuhrmann, Ethan Port and Greg Grunke were all on board by 1984, though, after two of the founding members, Jackson Del Rey and Jeff Long, had left (Del Rey would later return). The group split at the end of the decade with guitarist and founder member Bruce Licher going on to record as Scenic, and work as a graphic designer and printer.

Significantly Licher is absent from the reformed line-up. The trio of Fuhrmann, Port and Grunke are augmented by new members Val Haller and Alan Waddington. At first glance, that didn’t look too promising as Savage Republic without Licher seems like Neubauten without Blixa. Also, the fact that every act under the sun seems to have reformed in some incarnation or other over the past few years, content to churn out the old favourites, or to record pale facsimiles of them, didn’t help. But Savage Republic, influential as they were, have remained a strictly underground concern. Unlike Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine and even, to a degree, the likes of the Pop Group and 23 Skidoo, their fame hasn’t really increased whilst they’ve been away, so any charges of cynically cashing in on an enhanced reputation are well wide of the mark.

So how does 1938 stand up? Very well indeed. It’s a loose concept album, with totalitarianism and a world on the cusp of war and genocide, from Poland to China, its theme. The title track is an effective opener, but seems oddly out of place – like it was beamed in from 1982. The tribal toms, scratchy guitar and barked vocals sound like a weird collision between the Birthday Party and Southern Death Cult. “Marshall Tito” and “Anemone” are both relatively brief instrumentals – fairly frantic, but neither especially memorable. A Peter Hook style bass line underpins “Monsoon”, another short instrumental that grooves along pleasantly without creating much of an impression.

So far so not very much, but 1938 ratchets up several notches with the languid “Siam”, a mesmeric groove that would sound very much at home on a Scenic record. At eight minutes, it’s fairly epic in scale, but is dwarfed by the seventeen minute tour de force that is “Caravan”. It opens briskly with the ubiquitous tribal drumming, crashing guitar chords and wandering bass, but it is the eastern drone of Julia Zuker’s violin that captures the imagination. The whole thing sounds like a Can improvisation played in some Marrakech market square. It’s absolutely stunning. “Song For Rikki” takes things down for four minutes. It does recycle the riff from Richard Thompson’s “Shoot Out The Lights”, though (not that that’s a criminal offence – it’s a damned good riff). The next five tunes shoot by in under fifteen minutes. “White Ginger” is fairly freeform in structure, almost like a sketch. “Torpedo” is the second of only two vocal tracks on the record – a tribal punk track that’s dark and brutal. “Breslau” is all dark metallic clanging – like being in the bowels of a submarine. Eerie stuff. “Marshall Vito” and “Zelo” are two more shortish instrumentals – the latter coming across like a laid back Dick Dale.

1938 closes with the third of its three epics. “Peking” is a brooding bolero, as dark as anything on the record. It features Tara Tavi on the Yang Qin (a Chinese hammered dulcimer), building the tension before the track explodes into a riot of colour. It’s a fittingly grand finale to an impressive album. A few of the shorter tracks may seem a little insubstantial, like unfinished sketches, but there is some superb music here. Savage Republic have successfully linked to their past without repeating it, and in doing so have made a record that more than matches anything they’ve done before. I can’t think of many (any?) bands who’ve returned from so long away with anything like as strong an album as this. It feels like a Savage Republic record, but at the same time totally contemporary.

1 1938 (6:53)
2 Marshall Tito (3:09)
3 Anemone (2:42)
4 Monsoon (2:42)
5 Siam (8:20)
6 Caravan (17:03)
7 Song For Rikki (4:21)
8 White Ginger (2:46)
9 Torpedo (2:40)
10 Breslau (2:21)
11 Marshall Vito (3:18)
12 Zelo (3:44)
13 Peking (8:28)



5 responses to “Album: SAVAGE REPUBLIC – 1938 (Neurot NR053 2007)

  1. Thank you for the review! As I don’t agree entirely with everything you said, as the recordings producer, I will tell you that your review is the most “spot on” to date. Very accurate for the most part. I completely agree with the sketch comment… We were under a deadline, and we were struggling a bit with getting the band together to record. I layed down several ideas that I thought would make good songs, that never completely developed. “Anemone” is actually getting the most airplay! (Go figure) “Peking” was supposed to be my big finale, but it fell flat in my opinion.. “Caravan” was simply how you described. A live jam that went 25 minutes. We were literally swithching instruments while the tape was rolling.
    I will say this about Bruce… He is a great guy and a wonderful graphic artist. However, one of his greatest talents is the ability to surround himself with talented people. He has always received the lion’s share of the credit, and due to his graphic excellence, perhaps rightfully so. However, to compare his importance to that of Bilixa’s to Neubaten is an extreme reach. Just my opinion.
    Thanks again for a great review, I do hope that you get a chance to catch this line-up live. It’s the best line-up since “88 in Europe.
    All the best,
    thom f.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Thom. As far as my Bruce / Blixa comparison goes, I guess it’s due to the fact that, no matter how democratic a band is, the media always tend to focus on one individual as the de facto leader. Then that perception becomes ‘the truth’ and is parroted years later by the likes of me :)
    Anyway, I hope you do make it over to the UK at some point. I imagine the new material really comes into its own played live. Cheers – Dez

  3. Cheers for reminding me about SR’s second coming, Dez. I loved “Tragic Figures” all those years ago and the new one sounds very promising.

  4. Spot on review, especially – “Savage Republic have successfully linked to their past without repeating it, and in doing so have made a record that more than matches anything they’ve done before.” I think that that is a truly impressive feat that you noted. It so rare that a band reforms and puts out a recording that even matches earlier works. Savage Republic have moved themselves forward into the present so much so that, I think it unfair to compare this to earlier work – it is that good on its own. Hopefully they will get a bit more notice this time around. Chears

  5. Pingback: Good times, musically. « things i like

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