Mick Fletcher would concur! Featuring the father/daughter duo of guitarist Kenny McLain and drummer/vocalist Inez McLain, along with Bobby Carlson on bass, The Exbats pull off the nearly impossible task of drawing faithfully from the beloved rock and roll of the 1960s yet creating something that sounds genuinely fresh and current in 2020. Some of that is owed to the band's commitment to writing the sort of timeless pop songs that hardly anyone bothers to write anymore. A larger part of it is that Inez McLain is a real deal rock star with a voice and charisma that you just don't come across every day. Kicks, Hits, and Fits is The Exbats' third album and best one to date. Imagine your parents' (or even grandparents') record collection shaken up with the vigor of youth and the attitude of punk rock. That is essentially The Exbats. If you can listen to the final verse of "I Got the Hots for Charlie Watts" and still doubt that there's a bright future for rock and roll, then clearly you've given up.
The McLains write songs very much in the style of their musical heroes. You never have to wait long for a hook, and songs rarely go too far past three minutes. You can hear the love for The British Invasion, '60s girl groups, and of course The Monkees. But that affection for the sounds of yesteryear is reflected through the lens of present-day realities. Inez sings of love and life in the modern world. She's fierce, outspoken, and unwilling to take any shit from anyone. This can apply to jerky exes who won't take a hint (the brilliant opening track "You Don't Get It [You Don't Got It]"), club doormen who hassle her at her own shows, or the patriarchy at large ("Try Burning This One"). Elsewhere "Wet Cheeks" offers some gentle encouragement to people who need to do their part to lift themselves out of despair. "Put Down Your Fights", while inspired by very specific experiences in Kenny's life, conveys a broader, hopeful message about moving on from toxic personal conflicts.
There have been particular songs on past releases ("Hercules", "2027", "I'm A Witch") that made it clear that The Exbats had something special cooking. But Kicks, Hits, and Fits takes all of that to another level. It's hard to identify a standout track because literally every song sounds like a hit. This is an album for all ages and tastes. If you grew up on '60s rock and roll, you'll love it. If you grew up on modern-day garage and punk, you'll love it. The songs are catchy and fun to sing along with, but they have meaningful things to say about the world we live in (check out "Hey Hey Hey" for some brilliant social commentary served up with a spoonful of sugar). This album has it all: upbeat pop songs, feisty punk tunes, heartfelt ballads, and straight-up rockers. I love how "I Got the Hot for Charlie Watts" begins as a tribute to the most dapper man in rock but ends up as a love letter to rock and roll itself. It's a wonderful reaffirmation that this music we love is going stronger than ever. And while sometimes the whole "rock and roll will never die" shtick comes off as corny cliche, that all goes away once you hear music this joyful, wonderful, and full of life. This is what Don McLean was talking about when he asked, "Can music save your mortal soul?". It's some kind of happy accident that Kicks, Hits, and Fits arrives exactly at a moment when our world needs to be uplifted. If you're looking for something to give you a reason to smile and dance merrily around the house, this album ought to do the trick. I hope for a day when The Exbats are the biggest band on the planet!