When Van Halen released their monumental debut album in 1978, they introduced to the world a lineup that would dominate the rock music scene for the next seven years. That disc also heralded the arrival of the most important rock guitarist since Jimi Hendrix. However, one long forgotten memory of Van Halen I was the ridiculous rumor that surfaced claiming that Van Halen was really the unmasked members of KISS. The genesis of the rumor was kept a closely guarded secret, but the fact that there was absolutely no musical similarity between either band should have been enough to dispel it. But amazingly, there were those who continued to believe it.
Even an unknown Canadian act like Klaatu was not immune from such rumors. When they released their eponymous debut in 1976, an article in a Providence, Rhode Island newspaper speculated that Klaatu was a cleverly disguised, covert Beatles reunion album. Needless to say, the albums couldn’t be pressed fast enough for the record-buying frenzy that followed. In this case, the astounding musical similarities seemingly gave this rumor some degree of merit, thus keeping the hoax alive long enough for Klaatu to sell tons of records.
This is exactly why I won’t be surprised if next rumor on the horizon targets the Austin, Texas rock outfit Punchy, as the alter-ego of Soul Asylum. All of the elements are there! Vocalist Fritz Beer’s voice bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner and Errol Seigel’s biting guitar sound is strikingly similar to that of Dan Murphy. Even the overall vibe of the music is right out of the Soul Asylum playbook.
While I must admit to harboring a venomous disdain for the music of Soul Asylum, I find it most difficult not to like Punchy. Their latest release Just My Type sports the one element that Soul Asylum albums lacked — good songs! Fritz Beer writes down-to-earth, good-hearted, spirited tunes that stick to the bones. You won’t find anything like “Somebody to Shove” here. Instead they’ve taken the acoustic/electric formula of “Runaway Train” and used it to great effect on mid-tempo numbers like “On the Way to See You Tonight”, “Standing on Legs of Lead”, “Take What’s Left of Your Pride” and the country-tinged gem “Graces”. Guitarist Errol Seigel is Punchy’s answer to Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers). His raw sound and cool, melodic lines propel the band’s most energetic moments on songs like “Just My Type”, “Legs Kicked Out” and “Needle Exchange”.
So what have we gleaned from this? For starters, Van Halen is Van Halen, The Beatles had absolutely nothing to do with Klaatu, and Punchy is a great band. Just My Type is an impressive roots-rock record in spite of the Soul Asylum influence. Maybe it’s just me! But if there is anyone who can listen to this record and not hear Soul Asylum, then Paul is indeed — dead!