The Styrenes – We Care, So You Don’t Have To – Review

The Styrenes

We Care, So You Don’t Have To (Scat)
by Jon Sarre

An overview of the mid-’70s Cleveland underground music scene (yes, there really was such a thing) would be appropriate to place The Styrenes‘ near quarter-century career in context. Unfortunately, the available info is kinda spotty and I don’t have the space to trace a Mirrors-Electric Eels-Styrenes chart (with parallel and intersecting lines representing the Pagans, Rocket From the Tombs, Cinderella Backstreet, Peter Laughner, Pere Ubu, the Dead Boys, the Golden Palominos, the Cramps, the Men From Uncle, Ex-Blank-Ex, et al.)

Briefly, pianist/guitar player Paul Marotta began recordin’ stuff back in 1974 under the moniker Styrenes (as well as the Styrene Money Band and Polystyrene Jass Band). The personnel has shifted quite a bit over the years and the style has run the gamut from experimental piano to avant garde weirdness to jazz rock to straight up punk-influencing rock’n’roll.

The one thing that hasn’t changed for the Styrenes, it seems, is the apparent total lack of media interest. Count yourself informed if ya think they’re an X-Ray Spex offshoot!

This new record, the aptly-named We Care, So You Don’t Have To is the band’s first all-new LP in a decade. Ex-Pagan Mike Hudson owns the gravely throat which fronts Marotta’s driving-to- melancholia piano, U.K. Ratty’s schizo rock-guitar leads and slash-and-burn treble-heavy riffs, avant vet Al Margolis’ bass lines and Mike Hoffman’s and Paul Laurence’s always steady when not flashy drumming. Former Electric Eel (and present solo non-star) Brian McMahon provided two numbers (“Green Lamp” and “Half of Nothin'”). You also got the Eels’ “Silver Daggers” dusted off in its fallin’-over-nervous-breakdown-during-intercoursal glory and the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” recast like Tom Waits shrunken-liver boilermaker jazz.

Elsewhere, Rattay’s guitar gets way unhinged as Hudson struts around like Springsteen’s NYC punk cousin braggin’ that he’s lost everything (“Anything”); in another one he recaps a Red Sox victory to explain the parallel between life and baseball (“He Was a Loser” – him, you, me and the guy who let up that homer). On “Westies,” guest Phil Gammage’s harp and Marotta’s keys crash like surf over a State of Grace-like monologue concernin’ a friend with a plate in his head who’s found in a car trunk, “popped him behind the ear with a .25 Beretta.” If yer thinkin’ that this stuff ain’t exactly cheery, you’d be correct, but it’s also worth checkin’ out. The Styrenes have produced a literate, yet totally unpretentious honest-to-fuckin’-God great art record, or rock record, or art-rock record, whatever ya wanna call it. They care and you should too.