It seems almost too perfectly ironic that now, at a time in their career when most people have written them off as either dead or dying, the MC5 should power back into action with the first record that comes close to telling the tale of their legendary reputation and attendant charisma. This may appear particularly surprising, given the fact that the group’s live performances have been none too cosmic of late, but then the old saw is that you can’t keep a good band down, and it’s never been more forcefully put than here.
Which is not to say that High Time is a perfect album, by any means. Most of side two, with the exception of a lovely little chorus run in Fred Smith’s “Over and Over,” doesn’t hang together exceptionally well. A large part of the songs seem incomplete, written around chord progressions that quickly wear thin and words that display the lower edge of the school of right-on lyrics. Rob Tyner’s “Future Now” (despite a knockout bass line) is the greatest offender in this case, and though there are some nice moves toward free-form sound on sound toward the end, nothing ultimately is developed or carried through. Wayne Kramer’s “Poison” is a little better, opening with a lightning-like series of guitar exchanges, but when Rob comes in spitting words like “Nature, and Peace,” one is reminded of nothing so much as the Chambers Brothers on a particularly V-signed night. Things come to a crashing finale with “Skunk (Somely Speaking),” which moves well for its first half of good ol’ kick-em-out rock, and then dies a tragicomic death with the addition of some out-of-place horns.
But if the second side leaves much to be desired, side one is a no-bones classic. “Sister Anne,” about a nun who “don’t give a damn about re-vo-lu-tion/She’s a liberated woman, she got her solution,” is a top-flight piece of work in the old tradition. The MC5, whatever you might have felt were their other (sometimes glaring) faults, always knew how to play those I-IV-V progressions like nobody’s business, and they’re at their finest here. The song is put together like a charm, with a great kicking piano and a long soaring coda that carries you without a hitch into a bizarre Salvation Army instrumental at the end. Good shit, any way you look at it, and if there was ever a suspicion that the MC5 would never learn their way around the recording studio, let it be quietly put to rest now.
“Sister Anne” is only the beginning. “Baby Won’t Ya” takes on where the Salvation Army leaves off, all rollicking choruses and guitar breaks. Rob’s voice sounds strong and sure throughout, and when he hits the line about how “A lovely senorita took me by the hand. She said ‘whoo baby, won’t ya be my man’,” it’s easily worth another notch on the volume dial. From there, it’s tossed to Wayne and “Miss X,” a ragingly beautiful cut, helped along by a massive organ, incredible vocals, and a superb arrangement.
The capper, though, is saved for Dennis Thompson: his “Gotta Keep Movin'” not only defines the MC5 in the way that all of us would have liked to remember them throughout the past dismal year, but also manages to pull in every trick that literally made them the most exciting band in America for a brief and glorious time. It’s all there the precise breaks, the madly screaming dual guitars, the fanatic drive and energy. Make no mistake, they shovel it out as good as it ever gets, and that’s pretty damn good indeed.
For this, we can only praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.