Graded on a Curve:
Various Artists,
Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture

There was no need to look for the joke with a microscope when the film Repo Man came out of left field in 1984; Alec Cox’s tale of a cynically blasé hardcore kid turned car repossessor who has a spiritual awakening of sorts while riding in a radioactive 1964 Chevy Malibu flying high above the lights of nighttime L.A. was a laugh fest.

But Repo Man did more than just introduce us to Otto, Bud, Miller, and the Rodriguez Brothers; it came along with a nifty little soundtrack album that is every bit as offbeat, hilarious, and ultimately transcendental as the movie itself.

Cox peppers 1984’s Repo Man: Music from the Original Motion Picture with everybody’s L.A.hardcore faves (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Fear, Suicidal Tendencies, and if you wondering where X is, can you imagine Otto listening to them?), but also throws in a couple of real wild cards in the form of Iggy Pop’s tailor-made “Repo Man,” a trio of absolutely wonderful cuts by the Plugz, and the faux soul howler “Bad Man,” in which Sy Richardson reprises his role as Lite, the baddest and blackest repo man of ‘em all.

Perhaps the strangest thing about this soundtrack to history’s best hardcore movie is how little hardcore music there is on it. But this makes perfect sense when one considers that the hardcore scene is just the film’s starting point–the dead end that sends Otto straight into the unscrupulous arms of the Helping Hand Acceptance Agency and the company of Bud and Miller in the first place.

That said, the soundtrack’s hardcore cuts do a good job of limning the parameters of Otto’s very narrow world. Black Flag’s alcoholic couch potato anti-anthem “T.V. Party” is a tailor-made satire on hardcore teen anomie, while Suicidal Tendencies’ grinding and emotionally overwrought “Institutionalized” captures (albeit inadvertently) Otto’s gimmie gimmie gimmie attitude towards life (“All I Wanted was a Pepsi! And she wouldn’t give it to me!”) to a T.

As for Fear’s “Let’s Have a War” and Circle Jerks’ “Coup d’Etat,” well, they’re both calls to revolt that lead nowhere but to Otto’s working as a supermarket clerk. And while I wouldn’t necessary call it hardcore, Iggy Pop (with some help from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison of Blondie) delivers the teen angst goods on the explosive title cut, singing “I was a teenage dinosaur/Stoned and obsolete/I didn’t get fucked and I didn’t get kissed/I got so fucking dense/Using my head for an ashtray.”

The rest of the cuts go outside the box; the Circle Jerks play “When the Shit Hits the Fan” cocktail lounge style for yucks in a great send-up of hardcore purity; the aforementioned “Bad Man” by Juicy Bananas is a hilarious Shaft parody that comes attached to such lyrics as “You know everyone can tell the way I am/I walk into a bar, their place of work, they’re scared/They know I ain’t no cop/They think I’ve come to kill them” and ends with the really rather tasteless homily, “One way to tell if a woman really loves you/If she’ll have your dog.”

As for Burning Sensations’ (who? you ask) cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Pablo Picasso,” I have no qualms whatsoever about calling it an asshole; it’s okay I suppose in its secondhand way, but in a world full of great songs I have no idea why Cox chose this clunker.

Which leaves us with the three songs by Latino punkers the Plugz, the best of which is the reeling and delirious “El Clavo Y La Cruz,” which mates mariachi horn blurt to Chicano banshee wail to create the perfect soundtrack for racing a stolen car down the dry concrete bottom of the Los Angeles River. They also contribute “Hombre Secreto,” a snazzy little cover of “Secret Agent Man,” and the glorious instrumental “Reel Ten,” which we all know and love as the mucho evocative musical backdrop to Otto’s film-closing drive across the nighttime L.A. sky.

The Repo Man soundtrack is a modest affair; I can think of a whole slew of songs I wish were on it, and so can you. But there’s something completely right about this humble little musical addendum to Alex Cox’s humble little movie; it perfectly describes Otto’s passage from hardcore kid to repo man, and from repo man to childlike rider of the skies.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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