Green Green (Lion Productions)
Green front man Jeff Lescher gets a little overheated when he describes the impact the band's debut album had when it came out the first time: "Green was a kind of revolutionary album for the Chicago, and really, the national music scene at that time," he writes in the liner notes to a new reissue of the record, originally released on the band's own Gang Green label in 1986. "In Chicago, it made us the 'hot' group of the moment; it made it safe to play pop music in what had been a very misanthropic, Prozac scene."
I won't pretend to know what Prozac had to do with anything in '86, and it was never exactly dangerous to play pop in Chicago, but Green was in fact a breath of fresh air: at the time the city's underground rock scene was pretty underwhelming, with the notable exceptions of the Big Black/Naked Raygun noisy postpunk axis, the art-damaged post-Bauhaus sounds nurtured by the Wax Trax store, and stray prodigies like Eleventh Dream Day. Successful in its day, especially for a self-released album—Lescher jokes that the band "rocketed instantly into obscurity"—Green deserves better than a one-way trip down the memory hole. Now, after many years out of print, it's back in circulation thanks to Lion Productions, a superb label from Geneva, Illinois, that specializes in psych reissues from all over the world. The new edition includes the album plus the band's first seven-inch (super-raw early versions of four songs that were all rerecorded for the full-length) and three other rarities.
Green are still active, despite countless lineup changes. By the late 80s they were doing better in Europe than at home, and they've focused their energies abroad ever since. (Lescher performs in an acoustic duo at Martyrs' on Wednesday, March 10, but he's playing only one or two Green songs.) Their music has grown more accomplished and ambitious over the years, but there's something special about the unrefined exuberance of their first album. Green refracts hooky midwestern power pop from the late 70s and early 80s—Cheap Trick, the Shoes—through the prisms of British-invasion rock and brash punk. The insanely catchy songs are all Lescher originals, and in the liner notes he cops to influences including T. Rex, the Yardbirds, George Jones, the Byrds, Junior Wells, the Clash, and above all the Beatles. I can hear traces of the Sweet and even, on the intro to "Big in Japan," the Sex Pistols—but the melodies are strong and the performances are passionate, which is exactly what a record needs when it isn't trying to break new musical ground.
Produced in part by the late Iain Burgess, Green is a decidedly lo-fi, no-frills affair—Lescher's electric guitar sounds impossibly brittle—but the band makes a virtue of it. They go for broke, for example, on the urgent chorus of "Gotta Getta Record Out," leaning into howled ah-ooh-ooh backup vocals reminiscent of the Fab Four in their mop-top Cavern Club days. Lescher's singing is all over the place, swinging wildly from a piercing, nasal falsetto to a sandpapery sneer to unhinged growls and screams (by the early 90s, when I last saw Green, he'd reined himself in a bit), but he fits this unwieldy instrument neatly into songs as varied as the Yardbirds-style rave-up "If You Love Me" and the primitive country ballad "For You." When I got this reissue I probably hadn't heard Green in two decades, but I recognized every tune. They sound just as good today as they did back then.