Monday, November 28, 2011


Having just seen the reformed and fighting trim Diodes on their mini-tour of Southern Ontario, at the beloved This Ain't Hollywood in Hamilton on the final night of the swing, I can tell you the gang still has all the spirit that set them apart in the late 70's - early 80's.  Contemporaries of all the classic punks, the group played CBGB's in New York, hung with Blondie, The Ramones and Talking Heads, toured with U2 and Gary Numan, and were pretty much the poster band for scene in Toronto.  Such is the lasting esteem in which they are held, just weeks ago the group won a huge vote conducted by the Toronto Star to name the best Toronto band of all time.  It was a shocker.  Eat that, Rush!

Time to coincide with the mini-tour was the reissue of the band's third, and last, studio album.  Like all things Diodes, it had a shaky birth and existence, but now gets treated with due respect by their new label, Bongo Beat.  The master tapes had been lost in the shuffle label fights, and this had to be salvaged from a master used for cassettes and covered with Dolby.  But today's magic has saved the day, and six bonus tracks of demos, outtakes and a live number punch it up more.

Great current interviews and liner notes inform us that The Diodes had actually broken up for a few months before this album, after being dumped by CBS in 1979.  But, the corporate dummies neglected to realize that in the U.S., the label had just put out a collection that featured The Diodes infamous rockin' take of Paul Simon's Red Rubber Ball.  It became a minor hit, which led to calls for the group to hit the road and studio again.  The splintered bunch were cool with that, and had a bunch of songs too.  They also had their free agent status, since CBS had cut them loose.  They decided not to return to that company, because there were a couple of hotshot producers interested in them for their own new label.

Action/Reaction from 1980 gave the group a couple more decent-sized Toronto hits, Strange Time, and even bigger, Catwalker.  Like the other great punk bands of the day (Ramones, Teenage Head, etc.), much of the group's sound is undated, raw and snotty 60's-styled radio pop music.  This is the rejection of prog, singer-songwriter, southern rock, and the like, with the groups rolling back the clock to where the single was king and short, and mixing that with the similar-thinking Glam bands, Bowie, Dolls, Velvets, etc.  The songs had punch, noise, distortion, but also had lots of melody and smarts. 

I find they hold up better on stage now, but let's blame that on producers Willi Morrison and Ian Guenther, who were trying to get some kind of sound that doesn't hold up.  But The Diodes weren't the absolute best writers either, and the lyrics didn't exactly require too much analysis.  Or any.  Hard to beat the energy though.  The best bonus cut here is a ripping update of the Stones' Play With Fire, which goes double-speed one verse in, with classic punk-plucked bass, and a raw solo.  It seems old hat now, but in those days, a brilliant cover was all you needed to set yourself apart.  (One of the best moments here as well is when the song ends, and you here the audience at The Horseshoe pounding their draft glasses for the encore.  Man, I remember that!)

Best Toronto band of all time?  I dunno.  It's a good story of course, and I think it's marvelous that it's brought this band back to attention, and even introduced them to so many new and young people.  Action/Reaction has its charm, but it's very dated too, and not as skillfully made as most contemporary albums.  It's a cool and important time in Canadian music though, so check out The Diodes if they do more touring soon.

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