Those familiar with Nobunny’s Bacchanalian stage show and the stripped-bare, no-frills garage punk of his debut Love Visions will come to First Blood with an idea of what lies ahead. Yet within the seemingly narrow sonic corridor that Nobunny (known also by his alter-ego, Justin Champlin) has carved out for himself, the songwriter and one-man band manages to incorporate a startling range of influences: where one might expect a simple loud, fast ‘n’ dirty rock ‘n’ roll record, Nobunny provides a (relatively) nuanced inter-textual web that draws from a broad spectrum of sources. Some of these sources are woven delicately into the fabric of the album, while others he brazenly appropriates whole-cloth. So when you see a string of music journalists describing the song “Blow Dumb” as being “Velvet-y,” it’s not just because they saw that in the press release; it’s because the guitar for that song exists in this weird no-man’s land between “Run Run Run,” “Can’t Stand It Any More,” and the melodic parts of “Sister Ray.”
Champlin, at times, seems to bypass the glory days of garage rock entirely in favour of the more pristine sounds of its precursor, the British invasion, lending First Blood a decidedly melodic bent. Echoes of The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, and their ilk are everywhere, from the handclaps in album opener “Ain’t it a Shame” to the chorus of whistles at the end of “Pretty Little Trouble.” If you’re still in doubt, just skip ahead to the mid-album two-hit-combo “Pretty Please Me” and “Breathe,” a pair of plunky, waltzing ditties that trade punk snarl for quiet tunefulness. But lest you think this bunny is growing a little too cuddly for comfort, it’s worth pointing out that Champlin’s chosen subject matter remains giddily crass and self-indulging. Working in the venerable tradition of The Stooges and The Ramones, Champlin’s songs trade in the frustration (sexual and otherwise) born of teenage boredom and in callous dickery in general. So, when you take a song like “Ain’t It a Shame” and contrast its pop-smartness with the blasé “whaddaya gonna do?” attitude over his incessant infidelities, the results are pretty hilarious.
Another quality that works in First Blood’s favor is Champlin’s ruthless sense of pacing. Songs like “Never Been Kissed” and the excellent “Live It Up” come crashing to a halt at moments when you just feel like they’re getting ramped up. Rather than sabotaging the album’s momentum, this leave-‘em-hungry philosophy actually lends the music an addictive quality. The crack rock-sized servings of rock ‘n’ roll manage to stoke the flames of a desire they can never quite satisfy.
So while the level at which Champlin borrows from his sources makes me uncomfortable at times, the overall sense of irreverent playfulness helps raise First Blood above the level of bland homage and insulates it from devolving completely into ironic hipster wankery. For my money, though, it’s the straightforward buzzsaw guitar stuff that still works best. The wounded lover yelp-off “Gone for Good” and the ever-hopeful “Motorhead with Me” carry with them an unfettered sense of abandon that need no footnoting.