These days, Glenn Danzig occupies an interesting place in metal. On the one hand – the left one, of course – he’s as much of a legend as just about anyone, and deservedly so. He’s the former frontman and chief creative component of one of the greatest punk bands of all time. Then he served as the same for a severely underrated band that occupied the middle ground between punk and goth and metal. Then he morphed that later band into one bearing his own name, and thereafter, that eponymous effort released at least one classic record (its second) and a few others that came close.
But Danzig the band started to wane with its fifth record, flirting with a fanbase-dividing take on electro-industrial before sliding into a solid-but-lesser version of their signature bluesy metal. Glenn would tell you that’s him following his muse, him not playing anyone else’s game, and who’s to argue – but for whatever reason, it hasn’t brought him or us anything that really comes close to the vital darkness of Lucifuge or even 4. Add to that the fact that he’s also a notoriously prickly curmudgeon, to put it mildly, and you end up here, with an icon who’s as often mocked as he is lauded, equal parts rock god and internet meme punching bag. (The latter, of course, is somewhat ironic, given his penchant for… you know, actually punching people.)
It’s been five years since the last new Danzig album, 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth, which was better than the three previous albums. While fans wait patiently for another original effort, Glenn offers us this, the first of two cover records he’s got in the pipeline. The second, Danzig Sings Elvis, has no set release date, although Glenn did debut a version of “Always On My Mind” on satellite radio this past Fall. Per Glenn’s own words, Skeletons is a collection of songs that he’s always wanted to record his way, a clearing out of the proverbial skeletons in his closet. (Although, if anyone has literal skeletons in his literal closet, it’s probably Glenn Danzig.) While some choices fall terribly flat, in its best moments, Skeletons is exactly what a Danzig fan would want from a collection of Glenn’s re-imaginings of old favorites.
A cursory glance at the track listing shows that Danzig has unearthed a mostly long-buried set of skeletons, made up of themes to forgotten movies, garage rock regional hits, and a handful of oldies. And of course, there’s the obligatory Elvis tune, but it’s the b-side to a song that wasn’t a hit, taken from a soundtrack that bombed so badly that Elvis stopped doing soundtrack albums thereafter. Too many of these types of covers collections play it too safe, too obvious. Danzig certainly hasn’t done that with his most of his song choices, and he could’ve gone further down the path of the non-obvious and ended up better off: Of the ten songs on hand, I was initially only familiar with the original versions of three. Those are the most blatant hard rock influences here, and two of them are easily the worst Skeletons has to offer.
Working from worst to first, this cover of “Rough Boy” is utterly abysmal, which is kind of expected, considering that it’s a modern Danzig cover of a 1980s ZZ Top ballad. Show me someone expecting that combination to be anything better than confounding, and I’ll show you someone who’s never heard the lame original, least of all never imagined it darker and full of Tommy Victor pinch harmonics. Concept aside, the cover doesn’t sound good – recorded in bits across an unspecified number of years, Skeletons does have a tendency to differ in terms of its production. For some tracks, the slightly rougher sounds work, but in the case of “Rough Boy,” it compounds with the bad song choice and the ridiculous guitar work to make worse come to worst.
A similar fate befalls this version of Aerosmith’s “Lord Of The Thighs,” which at least has the decency to be a better starting point, but still not something that works terribly well in Danzig fashion. A spin on Black Sabbath’s “N.I.B.” fares a bit better – it’s a darker tune, of course, and thus, more appropriate cover material for Danzig – but it’s still far from the most interesting track on hand. In these hands, the original’s doomy drive feels more leaden than stomping, and the whole suffers from more of Victor’s overly metallic tone and incessant squeals.
Given Danzig’s long-evident interest in 60s rock, it should be of little surprise that Skeleton’s results are better when he’s working from that source material. He’s always been an unabashed fanboy for the King Of Rock – he is the Evil Elvis, after all – and his heavier take on the slinky groove of Presley’s “Let Yourself Go” works quite well, a promising lead-in to the Sings Elvis effort. Like the original, the heavier take on the Young Rascals’ “Find Somebody” benefits greatly from its catchy-as-hell chorus, one strong enough that it helps transcend the verses’ further unnecessary over-metalling. (Seriously, Tommy: Relax with the pinch harmonics.) The stark, piano-driven darkness of the Everly Brothers’ “Crying In The Rain” closes the album surprisingly well, even with an oddly distant and dampened production, which, if nothing else, makes it sound like it was recorded fifty-odd years ago with the original.
Still, as good as those are, Skeletons’ best are even more obscure, and yet equally perfectly Danzig. The take on Paul Wibier’s “Satan” – herein called “Satan’s Sadists,” after the movie from which it was taken – is great, one where all the parts work together. The production fits the track, while the song itself feels almost tailor-made for Glenn, with its bluesy basis and lyrics like “I was born mean / by the time I was two, they were calling me, calling me Satan.” It’s the type of tune that could appear on a regular Danzig album and no one would bat a jet-black eyelash.
Skeletons’ best track is also its most Misfits-ish: the punked-up take on Davie Allan & The Arrows’ “Devil’s Angels.” As with “Satan’s Sadists,” prior to Skeletons, I’d never heard the original, and like that one, this one’s the title track to a soundtrack from a biker movie of the same name. (I’ve never seen either film, obviously.) The original “Devil’s Angels” is a fuzzed-out 60s surf-rock tune, and no version I could readily find had lyrics, but this one does. Glenn says “Devil’s Angels” is a song that he’s wanted to cover since the 70s, which explains why the arrangement holds closer to his Misfits days, and of course, the muddy and muffled production brings it even closer. After hearing it paired back-to-back with “Satan,” I find myself thinking that maybe an entire album of Danzig Sings Long Forgotten Biker Flick Themes might not be a bad idea…
Like the skeleton make-up he’s returned to on the cover (with its dark-humor nod to Bowie), the best of these old tunes fit Danzig’s past perfectly. Because his tastes are broader and more idiosyncratic than many, he’s come up with a very interesting collection of tunes, and though there are some outright clunkers, most of Skeletons ends up being worth a listen. Here’s hoping Danzig’s re-visiting of songs that inspired him in the past bodes well for the next step in his future…