We admit to a certain bias, but will put forth and stand by the claim, that, for a brief period at least (1983-85), and probably a bit longer, Certain General were, simply put, the best independent rock band in the United States. And this is 2½ hour, all previously unreleased-document backs that up claim. Comprised of two complete-in-themselves albums, CD1 is a studio document entitled "DEAD RABBIT GANG" These sessions comprise what should have been Certain General's follow-up to "November's Heat", itself named record of the year by several noted publications and a smash hit in France. Dead Rabbit Gang easily stands up to the best work of bands such as the Bad Seeds, Gun Club, Echo & the Bunnymen, Dream Syndicate and itself contains the seeds of what would become the vocabulary of much of the late 80's American underground scene -- i.e. Flaming Lips, Camper Van Beethovan, Meat Puppets, Screaming Trees, Swell, et. al. Fans of any and all of those bands owe it to themselves to check this music out. CD2 of the set, "SAVAGE YOUNG GENERALS" showcases an earlier Certain General -- recorded live at various clubs in the NYC region during their formative days in 1981-83. Clearly showing the band's roots coming out of the No Wave scene, the disc also highlights the incredible mixture of No Wave/funk/pop/garage psychedelia all mixed with an instrumental virtuosity that belies the fact that this is a band just starting out. The material here mostly precedes November's Heat and catalogs almost the entirety of the band's repertoire in those days. An amazing document from an incredibly active, innovative, and prolific band.
Sample Press for Certain General:
'desperately beautiful' Liberation 1985
'the bridge between television and radiohead' Rolk&Folk Magazine 1999
'one of the greatest voices of this young century' Guitar Parts Magazine 2001
'Faulkner's and Jarmusch's America' Telerama 2000
'excellent new album (closer to the sun)' Village Voice 2001
'a revved-up dance engine with juggernaut possibilities' Melody Maker 1985
'the haunted crooner' Time Out Magazine 2001
'for all the teenage devils of the world' Trouser Press 1983
'the American Brel and matinee Iggy!' Figaro 1998
5-Star Albums (November's Heat) NME 1985, Sounds 1985, Liberation 1985
(These are the Days,Cabin Fever, Jacklighter) Liberation; Le Monde; Inrockuntibles 1985,1988, 1990
(Signals from the Source) EarShot Magazine 1999
(closer to the sun) Liberation 2001; Le Monde 2001
'The Cult Group' Le Monde 2000
France's Band of the year and Album (November's Heat) of the year 1985
'November's Heat' is one of the most important albums made between 1965-1995 Rock and Folk Magazine
'Lose Myself' one of 10 best singles of the year 1988 Liberation 1988, Le Monde 1988
Review of An Introduction To War
Certain General were a living contradiction of a band. They were both ahead of their time and perfect for the time they were a band. They had punk rock energy for a post-punk alternative sound. And, as this collection shows, they were at the top of their game even when it seemed like it was all falling apart. An Introduction To War, available at the Sourmash Records USA website, is a 2CD deluxe set featuring completely unreleased Certain General material. The first CD, Dead Rabbit Gang, would have been the band's second album, culled from recording sessions that took place upon their return from a successful UK tour. This material was prevented from release by internal band turmoil, as the liner notes state, but you couldn't tell by listening to it. All fourteen tracks pulse and crack with raw energy: the mark of a band at their absolute peak. There's so much to hear in these tracks to prove what an affect Certain General had on the musical landscape of the time. You hear elements in these tracks that definitely reveal the Generals' influences, such as the Velvet Underground-esque melodies and basslines, but there's so much more in what influence the Generals had on bands of that timeframe. It's in the vocal delivery tried by just about every 80s band, and the power in the drums, and the wailing guitar. These bands may not be trying to rip off Certain General, per se, but after hearing this collection in comparison to other bands, it's hard to deny that they at least heard the music and appreciated it. It would have been a fine proper album at the time, and now it's a timeless classic heard finally. The second disc, Savage Young Generals, captures the band live on tape at several shows at CBGB and City Gardens over a 13 month period. If the raw energy present on the studio material doesn't grab you, the live album will definitely blow you away. The showmanship on display for these recordings is the kind most bands would die to have. Sixteen of these songs have never been released in any format, and it's good to hear them alongside the odd cover and the traditional but higher energy interpretations of the songs off their releases. 77 minutes of pure sonic delight. Taken together, these two discs represent a fine document of a, as their website puts it, "criminally overlooked" band. Try out the sound samples if you don't believe the hype, but anyone would be impressed by what they'd find here.
Rob Devlin www.brainwashed.com 3/17/02
Certain General, An Introduction to War (SourMash, 2001)
After the blush and quake of punk, "post-punk" was the darkly spacious and angular alternative to new wave's vapid chewing gum. Certain General is a great, lost treasure of the New York post-punk scene of the early 80s. If you like Bush Tetras, Gun Club, and The Cramps, you'll be made strangely happy by these wandering legionnaires. An Introduction to War is a two CD collection of studio and live recordings with an 18-page booklet documenting the band's early period, from 1981 to 1984. It's a curious tragedy that a band with so much charm and chops has to press an introduction to their material so many years after they first haunted Club 57, Mudd Club, Hurrah's and other lost venues of the New York nachtwelt. Like the expatriate artists they so closely resemble, the Generals had to search for camaraderie and recognition, and found it in Paris. "I'm back from nowhere, I love you" intones vocalist Parker Dulany on "Nowhere," one of their best, which could also, incidentally, serve as a theme song for the band. Dulany, part Charles Baudelaire and part Nick Cave, before his Burt Bacharach-like transformation, breathes the lyrics with a sultry elegance, savoring each word. Phil Gammage's guitar shoots molten fury throughout the set, but never so savagely as on "Strange Fruit." Marcy Saddy, the second-coming of Ivy Rorschach, is all business, pounding out the martial rhythms that keep these generals marching. The bass work on the collection is split between by Russell Berke, whose manic intensity fires up the live CD, and Joe Lupo, whose restrained delivery allows the others to display their arms with all that entails. Let it be known that Certain General is back from self-imposed exile, with a cache of new materiel soon to be released and a series of field maneuvers in the works. This set serves then as a settling of the past as well as an opening salvo for their future conquests. Certain General is like the ghosts of forgotten soldiers, back for a good haunt, and this richly-recorded and superbly packaged collection presents them with a jagged fury that still drips terror as fresh as the sweat on your neck after another night of torment by your favorite demons. Onward Generals! Onward!
Profesor Jef -- Diner Debutante
Better than Jerry Lewis
Certain General Live at Don Hill's, NYC - April 10, 2002
By Kristy Eldredge
I was bone ignorant about Certain General when I went to see this show, assuming they'd be a fresh-faced gang of newcomers who would not know life's darker corners or its propensity for horrid gaping disappointment. Wrong! Certain General turned out to be unbelievably smart and cool. Too bad for the majority of New Yorkers who missed the show. The crowd at Don Hill's was on the small side, but we were riveted by the band's thudding, minimalist rhythms and boxy atonal melodies carved out by endlessly inventive guitarist Phil Gammage and bassist Parker Dulany. The songs were set up with martial regularity and force by drummer Marcy Saddy. But Dulany's vocals, and his presence as a frontman, were what really made the set work.
Some bands are worth watching just for their frontpersons. Certain General are one of those bands. Parker Dulany (that name!) embodies subtle but powerful charisma with his pouchy, sad eyes and slender scarecrow elegance. He sang in a haunted, atonal (again) voice that recalled David Byrne at times, David Bowie at others, and I swear a kind of depressive rockabilly affect was in there too, though someone I met at the show disagreed vehemently with that idea. It's true that the band never sounded like rockabilly, for one guitar lick or drumbeat. The songs have the fast, zig-zag feel of early 80s post-punk, and for good reason -- it turns out Certain General began in 1980, in the East Village, and achieved wide success, especially in France. This was a sort of reunion show for them, in honor of a new 2-cd deluxe set that they're releasing called An Introduction to War.
It was a flashback feel, the whole night. Certain General sang songs that criticized military action, but in a flat-affect, ironic style that reminded me of how much social criticism sprang out of the vicious ironies of the Sex Pistols. "I have a gun, I want to shoot my gun," one Certain General song goes, over and over (I'm paraphrasing, I think those were the lyrics) and it's reminiscent of Talking Heads songs like "Don't Worry About the Government" (the one with the line "Some civil servants are just like my loved ones"). Compare that to the personal, smaller-canvas furies of a band like Nirvana. But back to the music: the songs had great beats and what sounded like interesting lyrics - as usual the vocal mix was a bit muddy for my taste. The band seemed pretty arty and non-delivering of easy rock pleasures like nice harmony or emotional surges of feeling for the first few songs, but as the show went on they began to play slightly longer songs that resulted in Dulany occasionally throwing his head back, eyes closed, losing himself in vocal intensities, and that was truly great. Within the American tradition of intelligent, storky, white-boy frontmen, his body language is the loosest and he seems to have the most soul. The French don't always choose the most worthy American icons to elevate, but they seem to be on to something with Certain General.