Nation will get an earful of Yipes! rock
by Marty Racine
WELL, THE OL' TOWN has done it again. Also the Palms nightclub, Shade Tree Studio and The Milwaukee Sentinel.
We're talking about "Yipes!" (Millennium BXLI-7745), the debut album from Milwaukee's Yipes!, which hit local retailers last week and will be distributed nationwide by RCA within the next 10 days.
Now here's the news: "Yipes!" is a good LP -- exciting, refreshing, well produced and commercially accessible. Although some measure of hometown chauvinism enters into my enthusiasm, my cool reasoning is that "Yipes!" ranks among the elite of American modern rock 'n' roll. Its wit and urgency puts it in a league with recordings from such New Wave and / or power pop groups as The Cars, the Ramones, Devo, Cheap Trick and the Talking Heads.
Not bad for a quintet who eight months ago could hardly draw flies in area clubs.
LAST DECEMBER Yipes! moved here from Madison, shortly after it was featured as a promising band in Let's Go! It began playing extensively in area clubs, principally the Stone Toad and the Palms.
A month later the group beat out 35 bands to win the first Wisconsin Talent Showcase, a week long "battle of the bands" held at the Palms.
The victory earned Yipes! 12 free hours of studio time at Lake Geneva's Shade Tree, and they used the opportunity to record a demonstration tape to be sent to record companies.
They signed with Millennium, with headquarters in New York City, and in two months they were back in Shade Tree to record their album under the production of John Jansen and the engineering of Shade Tree's Andy Watermann.
It's amazing in a way that Yipes! recorded an album of such stature in the pressure cooker of sudden, perhaps unexpected success. I remember the self-deprecating attitude of lead vocalist Pat McCurdy, who told me last December he didn't consider Yipes! members to be extraordinary musicians.
INDEED, YIPES! in live performance had the sound of a homogeneous unit, and its facile rhythmic timing overshadowed any individual virtuosity. Combined with their fun loving, we-just-wanna-play attitude, the musicians were at least an enjoyable group to see.
Although the album almost by definition cannot duplicate the intensity of a live performance, it not only captures the total band sound but the nuances as well. Bassist Pete Strand and rhythm guitarist Mike Hoffmann lay down the usual thick, confident rhythm tracks, but the production and arrangements reveal details that I've never heard before.
McCurdy's vocals are forthright and mixed clearly; lead guitarist Andy Bartel kicks in some hot solos, and Teddy Freese's drumming is arranged and executed with wit and purpose. The result is explosive. "Yipes! clearly is the work of a band which has suddenly hit its stride and knows what it wants to say.
SPONTOTANEITY IS THE KEY. Yipes! doesn't fuss around with esoterica, and it doesn't try to overstep its boundaries. In keeping with their direct, well-defined approach, Jansen and Watermann wisely recorded the album as "live" as possible, avoiding excessive overdubbing and runaway production. They obviously understand the band, and despite a few studio tricks, nothing gets in the way of Yipes!' musical substance.
There are 10 songs on the album, ranging in length from 2:48 to 4:46 minutes. My favorites are "This Is Your Life" and "Last Of The Angry Young Men."
"This Is Your Life" is the opening cut, and it's a rocker with a strong melodic hook. Cohesive and fluent, it's a captivating tune with strong commercial qualities that still retains the rock 'n' roll grit this reviewer always looks for.
"Good Boys," "Out in California" and "Girls Get in Trouble" are full of pep that reveal Yipes!' healthy perspective of the world. The musicians understand the ridiculous, the ironies and stupidity of our culture, yet they remain optimistic in the true rock 'n' roll spirit.
"EAST SIDE KIDS" opens Side 2 and it's one of Yipes!' more popular songs, detailing the adolescent "high school confidential" theme about the threat of nuclear war which so predominates New Wave consciousness.
If Yipes! is resigned to events beyond its control, it has the artist's humor. Opening with a hilarious parody of a brooding Russian style chord, the band sings in the second half of the refrain:
"I don't care if the A-bomb drops / I won't mind is the juke box stops / It's okay if they take control / We've still got Russian Roll."
Yipes! doesn't shrink from reality, as so much music dangerously attempts; it creates a way of understanding it. And it's still fun.
"The Ballad of Roy Orbison" is a takeoff on the singer's melodramatic style, and the album closer, "Last Of The Angry Young Men," is a flat-out rocker that slips into a biting, bluesy rhythm.
THE ENTIRE ALBUM shows Yipes! to be in command of its melodies. The refrains aren't contrived. They flow effortlessly into the total song structure.
The excitement of Yipes! lies in the way it adapts its Midwestern rock heritage to the modern techniques of East Coast and English New Wave. The rhythm approach is steady in the vein of Illinois' REO Speedwagon, and Bartel's guitar soars at times like REO's Gary Richrath's.
But it has the urgent, growling vocals of some New York and English bands and the lyrical punch of the Kinks.
Whether it finds Milwaukee constricting in light of all this is beyond the point. Yipes! has made its move in the only way that matters.