Drummer Mike Pride Turns MDC’s Vital Punk Into Swinging Jazz on ‘I Hate Work’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Drummer Mike Pride takes his intense touring and two years of recording with the punk outfit MDC and twenty years later turns the band’s raucous catalog into swinging acoustic jazz. It’s the kind of project that could only come from the label RareNoise. I Hate Work draws its material exclusively from MDC’s iconic 182 debut album, Millions of Dead Cops, so in that sense, this is mostly a transformation of music that is almost 40 years old. Naturally, it takes some like-minded inventive types to pull off such a bizarre project. Enter pianist Jamie Saft and bassist Bradley Christopher Jones, both of whom revel in these kinds of transformational projects for rock and pop. Pride also bridges the gap to punk music by inviting special guests Mick Barr (Ocrilim, Krallice), JG Thirlwell (Foetus), Sam Mickens (The Dead Science), and MDC frontman Dave Dictor.

Pride began migrating some of his punk work into jazz shortly after leaving MDC in 2004. Much in the way that certain popular tunes have become jazz classics (i.e., “My Favorite Things”) Pride thought he could do the same with these early MDC tunes. However, given that the original album was recorded in one non-stop speed-fueled session, he had a real challenge on his hands, but he already had a leg up. When he started playing with the band, almost 20 years after the initial recording, he transcribed every dropped beat and misses the eighth note, an exercise in attention to detail that later paid off. For example, while punk bands and that one especially wanted to play everything at breakneck tempo, Pride decided to slow them way down. On tour, the title was rendered in 24 seconds where here he stretches it into a crooning eight minutes. One song is almost nine minutes long while two others are in the seven-minute range. 

The album opens with “Corporate Deathburger” in a casual piano trio foray as Saft plays the hummable melody backed by Pride’s tasteful cymbal work, and later some fine bass soloing from Jones whose snarling bowed bass transitions dissonantly into “Business on Parade” where Mick Barr later enters with metal guitar on steroids, with Saft and Jones contributing brief statements as well. “America’s So Straight” has JG Thirlwell sounding like an even more guttural Tom Waits as Saft, Jones, and Price gives it a yesteryear trio backing. 

“And So You Know” is the first of three tunes that Price wrote for the album as 3s were apparently wild in his formula – a 3-sided LP, three guest vocalists, and three new tunes. His brushes whisper on the solemn “And So You Know” while his sticks fuel the mid-tempo homage to a young daughter, “Annie Olivia.”  The nine-minute “She Wants a Partner With a Lust for Life” features Jones’ menacing sounding bowed bass, Price’s skittering snare work, and Saft’s droning mellotron in a tune dedicated to Pride’s wife, an odd choice for a dedication. But then, what’s not odd about this entire album concept?

Returning to the major fare from the I Hate Work original, as the titles are practically giveaways, we have “Dick for Brains’ which also features Saft on mellotron, making it sound like a calliope in a rather uplifting mode as he and Price spar playfully. “Greedy and Pathetic” has former musical collaborator Sam Mickens on vocals with Barr playing an electric twelve-string banjo as the tune moves through several twists and turns but never totally careening off the rails, partly due to Saft’s inventive comping. “Dead Cops” begins with precision start-stop rhythms before Saft takes it into heavy swing mode, completely transforming what was once a punk tune. The title track closes with Dave Dictor delivering dramatic memorable vocals amidst the improvisations of the trio, each of whom especially shines on this one. 

If someone had told you that MDC’s Millions of Dead Cops would eventually be turned into a swinging, improvisational acoustic jazz album, you may have laughed at such a preposterous thought. Yet, the proof is here with Pride, Saft, and Jones pulling it off magnificently.

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