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Early Damage

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Album Review

Washington D.C.'s Urban Verbs are often cited as a pretentious new wave band from a town that would later help birth hardcore punk, but the truth is they deserve better than that. Urban Verbs were one of the first significant new wave acts to emerge from the nation's capitol, they helped to found what would become one of the city's finest rock venues, the 9:30 Club, and their best work was genuinely striking and distinctive. 1981's Early Damage, the group's second and final album, is a compelling collection of cool but dramatic soundscapes fueled by Robert Goldstein's guitar work, which could shapeshift into smooth, jagged, or impressionistic patterns at will. Goldstein had a more than able musical foil in keyboard player Robin Rose, and if her synthesizer patterns sound just a bit clichéd these days, they were innovative back in the day and they're still effective in context. And drummer Danny Frankel and bassist Linda France were a gifted rhythm section who brought a thoughtful variety of tonal colors to the mix without littering the sleek horizons of this sound. However, like the Urban Verbs' debut album, Early Damage is ultimately hobbled by its Achilles' heel, lead singer Roddy Frantz, whose mannered, melodramatic vocal style and pretentious lyrics often stand in the way of what the musicians are attempting to accomplish. If the Urban Verbs had had a singer with the imagination and intelligence of David Thomas, Alan Vega, or Patti Smith, they could have been champs, but as it was they were four excellent musicians who didn't get the focal point they deserved. Early Damage is a more compelling and stronger example of their strengths than the self-titled debut, but it's still best recommended to folks who can listen past the lead singer.

Early Damage, Urban Verbs
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