The Hitmen & It Is What It Is
LPs (2007, Savage Beat Records/Shock)
Related: The Hitmen.
At last, the first two CDs in a four CD Hitmen reissue series have landed. You get everything here: the first two full-length Hitmen albums, plus single B-sides, demo mixes, and various live takes comprising a staggering 92 tracks, with massive liner notes and plenty of pictures. As a package, as a thing in itself, it’s impressive even before you hear the first note. It’s not a vanity pressing, though. The extras give a much broader and more balanced picture of the band than a simple hearing of the original albums.
Forming from a Radio Birdman-based core of Chris Masuak, (guitar) Warwick Gilbert (bass) and Johnny “Zeus” Kannis (vocals) in 1978, the Hitmen came together on a permanent basis following Birdman’s post Living Eyes split, and went on to stamp their mark in no uncertain terms. Masuak and Gilbert had an excellent intuitive relationship, due to their shared working past. Kannis was Birdman’s live MC, a born performer just looking for an outfit to front. They started out as a party band, with no loftier ambitions than to play a few tunes and have a good time.
When they decided to turn serious, they also chose to turn their collective backs on the inner city, and head out to the suburbs, where the crowds were. And they also decided to play rock. Not dumb rock, or post-rock ironic rock, but rock, pure and simple. In a fairer universe, they would have outsold Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil and the Angels combined by a ratio of three to one. Money hassles, personality hassles, producer and label and manager hassles – yes, these they had, sometimes all at the same time. Through it all they kept playing a punishing schedule around the beer barns and clubs of Australia.
Both sets are full of the incredibly fluid and inventive guitar playing of Masuak, who really stepped up to centre stage here – though he had to share the limelight with the, er, forceful personality on legs that is Kannis – while also co-writing the bulk of the material. But then, they never had a bum player out of the 19 (19!) who trooped through the ranks at various times and Kannis was a master at biting down on a line, especially in the first person - listen to his gleeful declarations of love for T-bone steak and the boogaloo.
It’s hard to pick favorites out of such a huge amount of material, all of which sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded. I’d go for the dream pairing of ‘Corridors of Power’ and ‘Oh, No!’, which were split by the flip on the original vinyl. But that’s not to short sell gems like ‘Didn’t Tell The Man’, ‘Bwana Devil’, ‘California Sun’ or any of a dozen more.
There’s added value in the way these CDs act as a roadmap, both for the Australian acts connected with the various members (Birdman, the Saints, the Hoodoo Gurus, the New Christs, the Lime Spiders) and also of the music that inspired the Hitmen to begin with (bands like the Blue Oyster Cult, the Sonics, the Flamin’ Groovies, and of course the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges). You could spend years exploring the roots of their sound, which is a gift for newcomers and a welcome reminder for old fans.
by Trevor Block