Friday, February 03, 2023

The Prostitutes - Alternates: 2017​-​2021

I'm always grateful to have an excuse to write about The Prostitutes. This is one of my favorite bands of all-time and to me one of the greatest American punk groups of the modern era. I feared that my previous review of The Last Two would be my final statement on this musical entity that has been a fixture of the punk rock scene since 1996. But an odds-and-ends collection titled Alternates: 2017​-​2021 has turned up out of nowhere, and I will jump at the chance to add another chapter to my book on The Prostitutes. Kevin McGovern, who for all intents and purposes is The Prostitutes, put together this collection largely to give these songs a second life. What results is the closest thing we've gotten to a Prostitutes full-length album in 14 years. Recorded between 2017 and 2021, all these tracks are alternate takes of songs released as singles over the last four years. Most of these songs were originally released in the peak pandemic years, and they may have been overlooked (as digital singles sometimes are these days). As an album, they fit together remarkably well. With the release of the track "Shake Rattle Die" in April 2020, The Prostitutes' turn to a more modern, experimental sound became apparent. Six of the remaining eight tracks on Alternates were originally released from 2020 to 2022, making this album the perfect bridge between "classic" Prostitutes and McGovern's current band The Trouble Seekers. If you missed these songs when they were singles, now you can conveniently own them in the form of one last excellent Prostitutes album (probably). 

The phrase a "second life" is very fitting in the case of the songs on Alternates. Hearing these nine tracks together gave me a new appreciation for this material. This is not just a treat for super-fans. This is a really great 21st Century punk album that fully captures the darkness and despair of the COVID era. If this were your first time hearing The Prostitutes (and perhaps it will be), you'd definitely want to hear more. McGovern as an artist concluded that he took The Prostitutes as far they could logically go, and certainly he was right. The Trouble Seekers are a remarkable, visionary band, but they are something new entirely. Yet this last gasp of The Prostitutes was a brilliant precursor, and that's captured fully on this album. It's bookended by "Shake Rattle Die" and "Nineteen." It would be fitting for the last-ever Prostitutes track to be "Nineteen," which reflects on the suburban dread and chemical abuse that inspired so much of McGovern's youthful songwriting. "Nineteen was so lame," he screams, bringing perfect closure to a quarter century of The Prostitutes. Perhaps it's the different studio takes, but the whole feel of this album is more edgy and post-modern  — yet still totally punk rock. The guitars get denser and more complex. The vocals are distorted just enough to sound surreal. Synthesizers are used judiciously. I think the reason I'm usually so lukewarm about "post-punk" music is because it almost never sounds like this. Even in middle age, McGovern has lost nothing in terms of vocal fury or sharp lyrical edge. The aforementioned tracks plus the likes of "Shapeshift," "Needle in the Red" (think angrier Psychedelic Furs), and "Sick To Death of Myself" are among the best songs McGovern has ever written and definitely merit being heard with fresh ears. 

As I listen to Alternates, I find it astounding that one could acquire music this good without paying a cent. Has the overwhelming abundance of new music constantly dropping into the digisphere finally taken the shine off of free music? I would hate to think so. How can you pass up a deal this good? The Prostitutes were the best, most exciting punk band to come out of Pennsylvania in the 1990s, and even this last gasp of output holds its own against the group's most celebrated releases. Most of the band's releases (including its undisputed masterpiece, Can't Teach Kids Responsibility) are name your price downloads from Bandcamp. If you do elect to pay a little something for these downloads, your kind donations will be used to recover the cost of a busted car transmission. And lord knows transmissions aren't cheap.

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