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The Shock of the Familiar – The Real Kids’ “Shake…Outta Control”

The Real Kids
Shake...Outta Control
Ace of Hearts

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Will these brimming implausibilities never end? The Distractions a couple years ago, Wild Swans following in their wake, and now this. Thirty-seven years after busting out the brash on their spiky charge-ahead wonder of a debut,  Boston’s The Real Kids, thanks in no small part to Ace of Hearts label owner/mentor/producer Rick Harte, are back! And by ‘back’ I mean a ‘rousing and jumpy and ricocheting off the studio walls and possibly bringing the mixing desk to the brink of melting down’ kind of back. Shake…Outta Control is quite the triumph, and behind that triumph is quite the story.

The Real Kids came blasting on to the streets in 1977 on the legendary Marty Thau’s Red Stars label, full of a rumbustious energy that sounded as if it couldn’t wait to burst out of its own skin. Not punk (though caught up in its draft, naturally), not classic rock’n’roll (though it certainly, certainly rocked) but more of an irrepressible hybridized beast best called power-pop garage, it both fit and didn’t fit but none of that mattered since taken on its own terms it was a classic of its genre and its time, hurtling with the type of verve that conjured images of immortal youth togged out in drainpipes and Converse with mops of mighty immortal hair flopping about in carefree caveman Beatles fashion. Distinctly American and East Coast American at that, exhibiting far less need for the petulant snottiness of their cousins from Queens, The Real Kids made a sound that stood as immediately timeless, endowing it with a breathlessness – no matter the pace of the song – that drove the hooks deep into the ear, into the synaptic tissue of memory itself, that drove you out on to the streets in a buoyant mood ’cause goddammit you’re gonna live forever. And then…

Ah yes, that always troubling, always pesky “And then…” And then, in essence, thirty-plus years of stasis (though filled with occasional live dates etc. The Kids, being kids, kept going) and false starts and tantalizing ‘what if’s’ that themselves were shadowed by a heart-sinking feeling that the band were finished and that the unfinished business of a second album would remain exactly that, unfinished. But, well, as it would happen, the fates weren’t done with these lads yet, and neither, frankly, was Rick Harte.

With the songs (mostly) long written and the core of the band (original bassist Allen Paulino passed in 2006) still active and willing, with not a single one of them getting any younger, Harte offered them studio time and encouragement and, most importantly, helped shepherd the process so the band could hopefully get the album they wanted, one worthy enough in craft and bang to be considered a successor to that explosive first go. A real Real Kids follow-up album, in other words, not the slapdash – and disowned – travesty that was Grown Up Wrong (released by Norton in 1993 and from which the title track originates), and against odds that even primary Kid John Felice professes he would have taken, that’s exactly what they got.

Over just the first three tracks we go from the prototypical “Can’t Shake That Girl” that suggests that the debut LP must’ve made it into the shops in Derry (Good Vibrations, no doubt) where the Undertones could hear it – the similarity is uncanny – to the Dr Feelgood stomp of “She Don’t Take It” that’ll have you checking maps to see if Canvey Island sits just outside Boston harbor, to the raunchy R&B-flecked “Shake…Outta Control” that marries early Pretty Things to Supersnazz-era Flamin’ Groovies and you gotta admit that’s a marriage made in boom-boom heaven.


Now, perhaps that sounds like a pinballing rock’n’roll free-for-all but surely that’s the point, isn’t it, to just spin the thing with as much muscle as you can muster and see where it takes you. Because that’s what’s happening here, The Real Kids reeling all about that same template they were stomping around on in 1977, stamping it with their own raucous signature. As if to irrevocably drive that point home, the following (somewhat newer) track “Tell Me (What You Want Me To Do),” penned by Felice and bassisst Dickie Oakes for Mary Weiss’ 2007 record The Dangerous Game, counts off with a cowbell, fercrissake. From this point forward, as we roam across the fertile Real Kids landscape, from late-night ballad (“Fly Into Mystery,” the lovely, lap-steeled “Common At Noon’) to mid-tempo shots across the bow a la Keith Richards (“Got It Made”) to unabashed rockers that sound in the aggregate like the classic Nuggets Lenny Kaye forgot to curate, that free-for-all is definitely ON.

The chunky ram-a-lama of harmonica-chased “No Fun No More,” the AM-radio garage of “She’s Got Everything,” the sharp, slash-chorded “That Girl Ain’t Right,” written by Felice just weeks before they began recording and indeed stinging with immediacy, the ridiculously catchy hop and swing of “All Night Boppin’,” they all bring the goods as if they were minted yesterday, a yesterday where Jimmy Carter has just been inaugurated, punk has blown up like a pipe bomb going off at the disco and Johnny Kidd & the Pirates records are still in print.

It should go without saying that, as with their debut, there’s no new musical ground being plowed here. These are well-known furrows, very tried, very true, and dug with renewed precision and unrestricted vigor as if by high carbon steel blades. No one comes to The Real Kids looking for the shock of the new, they come hoping for the shock of the familiar and that’s unerringly what gets delivered on Shake… Even the one slight departure, the opus-like (5 ½ minutes) “Who Needs You” that closes the album, does nothing to undermine the sense that the Kids were riding a crest of irrepressibility back when this second album was planned and assumed before it fell to the vagaries, sounding as it does like an Americanized, teenaged Graham Parker that never found a way to leave his job as a gas jockey but instead rocked the angst in the after hours service bay of the boss’s garage, all yearning, regret, and sorrowfully-contained rage, and what’s more familiar than that?

A stupendous end to an outstanding record, the lighters go up in our hearts while behind our closed eyes we clutch at the precious leather jackets of yore and realize they feel just as texturally thrilling, exude the same implied material excitement, as they ever did. Inside this record the concepts of ‘then’ and ‘now’ become the useless constructs they almost always are. To paraphrase from the über-text of rock’n’roll: The new ’77, same as the old ’77.