The Gun Club – Lucky Jim – (United Kingdom – Import), Reissue, Cooking Vinyl, 2018
The final Gun Club album, Lucky Jim was released in 1994, less than two years before frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s death at the age of 37 from complications due to liver disease. Pierce was a wasted, hollow-eyed ghost when he and the last incarnation of the Gun Club convened in Holland. Haunted from a trip to South Vietnam and Cambodia, Pierce wrote 11 new songs for the sessions and forged ahead despite the departure of longtime mate and fellow guitar slinger Kid Congo Powers, who left to concentrate on his own band, Congo-Norvell. With Pierce handling all the guitar chores, there’s more overdubbing than there would normally be on a GC disc, but that’s not of consequence. Perhaps the most telling track on the album is “A House Is Not a Home,” an electric scorcher with Pierce telling his, and his band’s, life story; by the end, they were a band without a country, dismissed in America and met with indifference everywhere else except in the Netherlands. Pierce expresses his agony vocally, wailing above the guitar storm, riffing and stinging the center of the melody with razored blues fills and the odd James Burton lick. Much of the rest of the disc is nocturnal, including the odd lounge-y blues shuffle of “Cry to Me,” with Pierce doing his very best Albert Collins in the intro. There is tenderness in all the pain on Lucky Jim; it’s as if Pierce had accepted that this was always going to be his lot, and knew that much of the struggle was his own fault. The years of substance abuse hadn’t taken his fire away but had turned him inward. For instance, on the burning, Hendrix-drenched “Ride,” the guitars flail in open E and chunk against each other, chord for chord, yet the singer is begging for the sensual pleasures of a woman on the street, unashamed and unabashed. The acoustic sensitivity of “Idiot Waltz” is a forlorn country ballad, stretched taut by a lyric so full of desolation the singer almost disappears underneath its weight. The “Machine Gun” riff that is the foundation of the vehicle for drummer Nick Sanderson and Pierce, “Up Above the World,” blazes with shimmering souled-out rock & roll pathos. The set closes with “Anger Blues,” the purest take on this genre the Gun Club ever recorded. The grain in Pierce’s voice is an erasure, a ghost, a hunted soul who has nothing left to lose but the very thing that keeps him alive and simultaneously destroys him. As Pierce slashes out Texas blues riffs and single-string flurries, he longs for a kind of life that he knows isn’t available to him, a present future free of rage. His solo is among the most expressive and genuinely engaging that he ever played, digging deep into the tradition for its mud, sweat, and bone in order to tie himself to his origins in perpetuity. It’s a roar and a final gasp, kissed by Bart van Poppel’s Hammond B-3, and drenched in sorrow and resignation. Pierce may be gone, but this final disc proves he hadn’t lost a bit of his own gift for songwriting or playing the guitar, and that the Gun Club was more than capable of surprising even the most jaded of cynics. Lucky Jim, it turns out, didn’t just signify the passage of a man, but the disappearance of the only real American rock band left in the world. Rest easy Jeffrey Lee, and thanks for the music.