This is an improbable and unexpected story. I can’t overstate to you how much the Neighborhoods, a fine rock band from Boston, MA, meant to me (and to Adrienne). Playing with them was the spark that lit the fuse for us to begin booking bands at Studio B in Greenville in the 1980’s. This is all recalled in our Singles Going Steady Podcast (tinyurl.com/zubhoods). We booked and saw the Neighborhoods countless times, and there is no doubt in my mind that there was a few year period where they were the best live band in America, bar none.
On record, however, with the Hoods, there was a slight case of diminishing returns. The Hoods had a fine indie first record, Fire Is Coming, followed by the truly wonderful The High Hard One and equally good Reptile Men. Their last two records, Hoodwinked and especially The Neighborhoods, showcased a band trying to move up, grab the brass ring, with heavier, more metal tendencies on the production end. I don’t blame the Neighborhoods for wanting to become ‘major label,’ as they truly had the talent and songwriting to do it, but for whatever reason it didn’t work. They went their separate ways; Minehan took the Bob Stinson/Slim Dunlap seat in the recent reboot of The Replacements, and he has stayed in rock running the fine Wooly Mammoth Studios in Waltham. The band broke up for awhile, and then, the core of David Minehan (Vocals, Guitar) and Lee Harrington (Vocals, Bass) found a new drummer, Johnny “Rock’ Lynch and they started playing again around Massachusetts.
What I am trying to get at, is that the Neighborhoods have not released a studio record since 1991. When I heard they had a new record on the way, my first thought was….trepidation. Could they really catch the old magic? Almost twenty years later? Would there be anything left in the songwriting bucket? How could a band produced by a guy who owns a world class studio not put out an overproduced mess? I must say my expectations were low. Really low.
Well, what a surprise. Last Known Address starts with the rocking ‘Half Life,’ featuring David Minehan’s amazing vocal and guitar, singing a, um, mature lyric along the lines of “I hope my half life’s not used up.” Its an astounding beginning, and then the Hoods grab your throat with ‘Bygone Era,’ a wonderful lyric of being young and goofing off, referencing the life changing music of the time, like the Pistols - “cause if the music starts to suck out loud, you know what we’ve got - a good bygone era.” ‘I Go Dark’ is Minehan at his catchiest, poppiest best, carefully backed by Lee Harrington’s vocals and Lee and Johnny's rhythm section. It could be from a Cheap Trick record, the song is that good. The record’s beginning is set off by ‘Billy The Kid,’ a lament of the passing of a friend, full of acoustic guitar and out of the way keyboards, as well as terrific backing vocals. This is a mature, meaningful song as good as anything Paul Westerberg has ever written.
The production on the record is thick and big, but the cake is not overbaked. There is still the sound of a band playing, unlocked to any computer grid, and it’s not chock full of unnecessary sounds. ‘Don’t Look Down’ brings the very much missed lead vocals of bass-god-of-thunder Lee Harrington. Lee has an effortless ability to rock out with his singing. The song is pretty much a boogie stomp with a great power pop chorus, and Lee pretty much kills it. ‘In Case Of Creeps’ has a menacing Damned via Ministry riff, the Hoods are pouring it on on this one, then it goes into a silly slow part - the Hoods have always had a wicked sense of humor and this one really showcases that silliness. It even sounds like Lee is playing an upright bass in the ‘interlude.’ ‘Save Yourself’ has the feel of a Hoodwinked track, with a killer sliding chord riff and four-on-the-floor drumming, it’s balls out all the way. ‘The Stowaway’ is another more ‘mature’ Dave song. The song follows a protagonist who is kicking drugs and appears to be stowing away in the wheel wells of a jet airliner. It’s another masterful song, with a great story and mid tempo approach. It’s kind of a ‘Space Oddity’ set closer to earth, even ending with mellotron flourishes.
‘My Loss, Your Gain’ has a cool syncopated drum figure and some wonderful bass gymnastics from Lee Harrington. This tale of love lost is buoyed by the boys’ ‘who hoo’ backing vocals. “Parasites,’ I believe is an older song that ranges into some cool funky textures. The gist of the song involves a woman who needs/gets cosmetic surgery:
You’re just another plain Jane looking to live someone else's life
Into the chapel of the scalpel, and the parasites
This is a great, sprawling tune that covers a lot of territory. David Minehan is at the top of his game. ‘The Tiled Room’ actually does sound like a Replacements tune. A really good one. It’s a great story of teenage lust and longing. This amazing record ends with Lee and his anthem, of sorts ‘We Are All Alone.’ Again his vocal is superb, as he relates a tale of dying loved ones, augmented by some sweet slide from Dave. It’s a beautiful, heartfelt song that really sticks with you.
So there it is, the Neighborhoods and Last Known Address. Somehow, this long-mothballed band has made a fresh, terrific record from start to finish. All my worries and preconceptions were defeated by this record. The singing and playing are the best. The age-appropriate songwriting is something Dave and Lee should be proud of. It’s perfectly produced, and still has that Hoods sense of humor. This is why I believe in rock. The Neighborhoods sure do, and they are still the best at it.