Take a razor to your head with The Sharks

THE SHARKS: Phantom Rockers parts 1 & 2

Release year: 1983/2021
Label: Nervous Records/Western Star Records

In the world of psychobilly, there are few names more legendary, iconic and influential than The Sharks. Not only is virtually all of their recorded material some of the best psychobilly around, but the people involved in the various incarnations of the band have done some mighty influential things outside of The Sharks as well. Singer/guitarist Alan Wilson has played in a whole throng of bands, produced a veritable shitload of classic records, and nowaday runs his own record label Western Star, who’ve become something of a pillar in the latter day UK neobilly/psychobilly scene (and have incidentally released this here re-release we’re reviewing). Slap bass player Steve Whitehouse formed Frenzy and has played in more bands than you can shake a finger at, helping keep the rockin’ flame alive that way. Drummer Hodge may not have a CV quite as illustrious, but already his involvement in The Sharks is enough to cement his place in psychobilly/neobilly history!

In recent years, Wilson has re-released a lot of material by The Sharks on 10″ vinyl via his own label. There have been some somewhat dodgy choices involved at times: the re-release of the band’s second full-length album Recreational Killer omitted about one third of the tracks, and now the re-release of debut album Phantom Rockers comes on two separate 10″ records, sold both as a bundle and separately. Splitting what was originally a 12″ album to two 10″‘s is weird enough; at the very least it should have been a double disc album. Finnish Bluelight Records did a smashing job on The Blue Cats’ Best Dawn Yet 2×10″ album – which incidentally features Whitehouse on slap bass!

OK, so the questionable nature of the release having been dealth with, on to the music. Such is the classic status of this album, that if you haven’t heard Phantom Rockers, you really don’t know anything about psychobilly. Period. Only the classic albums of The Meteors and perhaps a small handful of other albums are more quintessential to the genre. This is one of those albums which are really and truly at the roots of the entire phenomenon known as psychobilly.

What this means, in other words, is that purely musically, this is early 80’s neobilly with tons of revival rockabilly influences. And of course it is, because after all, that is the root of psychobilly: emerging from the late 70’s and early 80’s rockin’ scene, but distancing itself from the self-serving nostalgia and demands to sound just like the old bands. Instead, The Sharks – like The Meteors, Guana Batz and the others who laid the foundations of the genre – took the music, removed it from the pink pedal pusher nostalgia and dragged it kicking and screaming into the 80’s landscape. New wave, punk, horror movies, and the exuberant wildness of youth were thrown into the mix, and the mutant offspring was this: psychobilly. Psychotic, wild rockabilly played at faster speeds, with wilder instrumentation and songs about serial killers and ghosts – but also teenage love. And rockabilly was still the throbbing heart of it all.

Phantom Rockers is not only a pioneering album, it’s an album full of good tracks that still sounds good, fun and relevant today. Songs like the title track, Take A Razor To Your Head, Charlie and the Cliff Richards cover We Say Yeah would be killer tracks even if this wasn’t an iconic album. Basically, this has everything that makes good psychobilly so great: a vibrant rockin’ feel, wild solos, fun lyrics, a prominent slapping bass, and a straightforward, no-nonsense attitude to the songs. I’ll admit that I think the two albums the band recorded in the 90’s – the already mentioned Recreational Killer and Colour My Flesh – are better, but that doesn’t mean this album isn’t great.

Basically: if you don’t know this, you don’t know psychobilly. And if you don’t like this, you don’t like psychobilly. Can’t say it fairer than that. The classic status of the album is not in question, nor the quality of the album itself.

But from the album itself, back to this re-release. One cannot help but think of a cash grab with how this re-release is realized. It truly does seem a weird choice to split the album into two releases. Maybe I’m just way too cynical (and let’s not kid around, of course I am!), but there you go. However, I’m sure there are many collectors around who’ll want this in their collection, and who am I to say they’re wrong?

5/5 for the album, 2.5/5 for this weird version of it

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