The oldest story in the world

Fourteen years after breaking up, the Plimsouls return with a new record and an old sound

Two of the songs from the Epitaph demos ultimately surfaced on the soundtrack to the 1996 Liv Tyler film Heavy, the rave-up rocker "Pile Up" and the breakup ballad "Lost." The rest, including a smart Who-Kinks homage titled "Not of This World" (written by Case and Ben Vaughn), sat untouched till now. Until a few months ago, there was no American label even willing to release what would become Kool Trash. As a result, earlier this summer, the disc was released in Spain and France on the band's own Shaky City label, so named for the first song on Everywhere at Once. (According to one source, Munoz was also pressing up copies of the disc and getting them into L.A. record stores, which, of course, annoyed Case.)

But next month, a small Los Angeles-based indie called Fuel 2000--which has distribution through the mighty UNI Corporation, ironically enough the same company that distributes Geffen--will put the album in stores across the States.

Last year, Case wasn't so much bitter about the band's inability to land a domestic deal--though he has every right to be, especially when major labels are clogging up the bins with dozens of bands every month who sound like the Plimsouls, though they're not nearly as pertinent. Perhaps amused is a better word...or maybe bemused.

"It seems like we're doing good work," he said. "It ain't the answer to cancer, but it's a rock-and-roll record--a rockin' Plimsouls record, and a pretty good one. I don't know if this is where we would have gone if we had stayed together, but in a weird way, we did kinda pick up where we left off. But ya know, when we cut this stuff a few years ago, the alternative thing was happening, and a lot of people in the music business really felt like they had their hands on some sort of golden calf. Now they've slaughtered that, and it's like a different period musically.

"The Plimsouls' music doesn't have much to do with what's going on, but even in 1982, '83 we didn't. I didn't feel like we were part of some power-pop thing. The Plimsouls played with absolute conviction. It wasn't about chops. It was about complete commitment to playing with the Plimsouls."

The Plimsouls initially reunited because of a handful of business necessities and happy accidents. The first came in 1994, when they were asked to rerecord "A Million Miles Away" for the Speed soundtrack. It was a move that might have been a bit ill-conceived. To outsiders--especially those who considered Case's solo career an interesting, worthwhile venture that found him wandering blues alleys and folkways--it smacked of nostalgia, of admitting they were a one-hit wonder that had tapped a rich vein and bled it dry. And alongside the likes of Pat Benatar, Gary Numan, and Rod Stewart, the soundtrack move also smacked of bad taste.

"That actual recording was kinda weird, but the sessions for it were cool," Case insisted. "I had some songs, we started playing 'em, and everything fell together." In February 1995, the Plimsouls regrouped again for a Kinks tribute in Santa Monica that also featured Dave Davies, and just a few months later they came together in the studio to record the tracks that make up Kool Trash.

The first time around, the Plimsouls existed at a time when everything seemed fleeting and disposable, when everything came bearing yesterday's expiration date. In their rush to put the new in new wave, stations like L.A.'s powerful KROQ created a brand-new generation of one-hit wonders; everything was a hit for one second, but very little lasted for two. And the Plimsouls had the unfortunate fate to wash up in the Knack's backwash, even being trumpeted in some circles as "L.A.'s next Knack." But where the Knack came bearing Beatles moves, Buddy Holly covers, and trench-coat leers, the Plimsouls seemed infinitely more authentic, more genuine, more sincere. The Knack was out to market history and get rich plundering the closet; the Plimsouls belonged to history, inevitabilities along the time line.

The Plimsouls' greatest songs--"A Million Miles Away," "Hush, Hush," "How Long Will It Take," "Now"--sound old today but not dated. They're old only in the sense that they're timeless, as exhilarating tomorrow as they were 15 years ago. They inhabit the same neighborhood as Chuck Berry or the Rolling Stones or X, a place where music stands as immortal and indestructible. "A Million Miles Away"--released first as a single, then on the band's sole major-label album, Everywhere at Once, which itself has remained a sort of incidental classic--wasn't just a Byrds ripoff. It was an extension of "Eight Miles High," 12-string psychedelic pop infused with punk rock's immediacy, fervor, tension, and desperation. It was something brand-new fashioned out of something well worn and familiar--and it was potent enough to influence the likes of the Long Ryders and Green on Red and many other musicians trolling L.A.'s clubs.

The Plimsouls' self-titled debut on Planet in 1981--rereleased six years ago on Rhino, with the band's 1980 Zero Hour EP and a few rarities thrown in for bargain shoppers--sounds thin only because it was so poorly produced, the guitars muted and whittled down to razor-thin proportions. It sounds like so many records of the time, rock and roll without the rock, everything turned down until it felt flimsy and transparent. (The Rhino version was remastered, but you can only pump up a punctured tire so far.) But both Zero Hour and The Plimsouls showcased a band with a keen sense of its roots, covering both "Dizzy Miss Lizzie" and Otis Redding's "I Can't Turn You Loose" without turning either into a bar-band throwaway; you got the sense that Case and the rest of the band had some real connections to the music, that they understood--and loved--their history and their place in it.

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