When former MC5 axeman Wayne Kramer made The Hard Stuff, his first solo disc for Epitaph, he recruited a gang of studio help that read like a literal “who's-who” of alt-rock and punk stars. Cashing in on his legendary reputation, Kramer delivered a solid effort that was one of the year's best albums. For his third Epitaph release, Citizen Wayne, the Gen-X sidemen are gone, as is long-time Kramer lyricist Mick Farren. Under the guiding hand of producer David Was, Kramer is entirely on his own here, and if the resulting songs aren't as breath-taking as those on The Hard Stuff, they ain't half-bad, either.
Mixing the metallic-tinged, guitar-driven style of rock that he's known for with a sort of manic jazz improv and urban R & B influence, Kramer has created an interesting, thought-provoking album that showcases a lyrical talent few of us realized Kramer possessed. There are several songs here that have caught my attention and fired my imagination, from the slightly surrealistic history lesson of "Back When Dogs Could Talk" to the clever satirical wordplay of "Revolution In Apt. 29." "Down On the Ground" is possibly the best riot song I've ever heard, the story of the MC5's ill-fated trip to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, while "Snatched Defeat" and "Count Time" tell of Kramer's personal trials and tribulations. "Shining Mr. Lincoln's Shoes," a simple Guthriesque tale of life on the streets in America reveals Kramer's populist social consciousness, while other cuts take on government-sponsored drug runners and media-created celebrity.
If much of Citizen Wayne seems to be autobiographical, well, it is. During their time, MC5 were a ground-breaking hard rock band with a political edge that made a lot of noise, stirred up a lot of controversy and, ultimately, sold few records. They might have been an obscure footnote in musical history if a current generation of young punks hadn't gone searching for their non-commercial roots and rediscovered the pre-punk Midwestern anger of MC5 and the Stooges. Kramer was elevated to the status of a legend without any of the material benefits. That he's defeated addiction and imprisonment to return to music after a hiatus of many years is a tribute to the man's talent, that Kramer has delivered an album as electric, insightful and vital as Citizen Wayne is an indication of his artistic creativity. (Epitaph Records, 1997)
02/15/2022 Review edited to correct 25-year-old error in the producer's name...as if anybody cares...
Also on That Devil Music: Wayne Kramer's The Hard Stuff CD review