February 05, 2002

Lifter Puller "Soft Rock"

It seems as if some bands really want a place in the annals of rock history. They want to make a name for themselves long after they've disbanded, in part to sell those records for big buck$ on eBay, or to become "influential" even though very few people ever saw or heard them during their existance. While it's true that many of these bands are crap, many of them are worthy of being anthologized. Does Lifter Puller (or, as printed here, "Lftr Pllr") deserve the honor of being a "legendary" band? Are they truly influential, did they move the earth and sky, or simply Minneapolis? Did Lifter Puller have a lasting legacy, or are they worthy to be forgotten? Those are tough questions to ask, but they do come up when dealing with a compilation like this.

If you're not familiar with the lovely racket of Lifter Puller, then Soft Rock will at least let you know where they came from. I'm not quite sure if this was meant as a historical document as much as it was a chance to release their out-of-print recordings, because there are no notes whatsoever about the band, and only minimal recording information about the records. It's jam-packed with music, which includes their first two albums, an EP, two singles, comp tracks, and, heck, why not a few unreleased tracks just for good measure? That's two hours and two CD's worth of music, kids, so they're gonna learn you somethin' good.

And what a great racket they had! They never really changed their sound; they simply modified it, and, as time went on, they got better and better. It's pretty telling that their last recordings are certainly their best, and "Secret Santa Cruz" makes their departure even sadder, as it's not only a great song, it's evidence that Lifter Puller were on the verge of something really, really big. From the first moments of their self-titled debut, Lifter Puller had stumbled upon to their own special little racket. Though their first album (confusingly found at the end of the second disk) was a lot more sedate than their future records, the general formula was there: singer Craig's odd, nasal speak-singing voice; the crunchy smarter-than-punk rock guitars, the witty song titles and the weird moments that sound OH SO NICE now, and would have probably kept Lifter Puller alive if more people could have heard them.

While their best moment is still their final album, Fiestas and Fiascos, that's not to mean that Soft Rock doesn't have a number of great moments. From "Secret Santa Cruz," it's easy to see why Lifter Puller were great: the line "I did it in some disco with a guy from San Francisco who looked a lot like Roger Daltry" makes me laugh every time. The first six songs are all essential; when Lifter Puller made singles or compilation tracks, they were wise in putting their best foot forward. When these songs stand alone, they simply burn. That's pretty much true of every song on Soft Rock. Other great moments include the self-titled's "Mission Viejo" and "Sublet," Half Dead and Dynamite's "To Live and Die in LBI," "Rock For Lite Brite," and "The Gin and the Sour Defeat," and pretty much all of the self-released The Entertainment And Arts EP.

It would be wise not to listen to Soft Rock in one setting. It's hard not to get lost in the music, and taken all at once, Soft Rock could easily overwhelm you. They've stepped in and have separated the albums on the tracklisting--not by title, but by big spaces, so at least they were thoughtful enought to do that! If you choose to listen, it's best to start at those points. Listen to Soft Rock as individual albums instead of as a whole, so that you won't drown your patience in the soft rock. It would have been nice to have some liner notes or a history or photos, but that's a minor quibble. Soft Rock is a wonderful collection that will easily satisfy both the Lftr Pllr fan and those who like quirky, intelligent, and witty Rock Music.

--Joseph Kyle

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