Graded on a Curve:
The Mutants,
Curse of the Easily Amused

The Mutants emerged from the fertile late 1970s-early 1980s Bay Area punk scene, a band often spoken of favorably but frankly a bit underrated due to frustrated momentum, as their debut LP wasn’t finished until 1982, and with its contents a smidge slicker than the power punch of their live shows, for which they were highly regarded. But with Liberation Hall’s Curse of the Easily Amused, old school punk collectors have a reason to cheer, as the set offers a substantial batch of wholly worthwhile previously unreleased material. The vinyl is scheduled to arrive November 4 of 2022, but the CD and digital are available on July 15.

The Mutants were formed in 1977, with four members having met while attending the California College of Arts and Crafts; that’d be guitarist John Gullak, drummer David Carothers, and vocalists Sue White and Sally Webster. Fritz Fox, who attended the San Francisco Art Institute, also joined on vocals. Along with later additions Brendan Earley on guitar and Paul Fleming on bass, this is the core of the band heard on Curse of the Easily Amused.

Along with the aged and knowledgeable punk mavens still walking amongst us, those who’ve scoped out Bill Kopp’s book Disturbing the Peace: 415 Records and the Rise of New Wave (a pretty snazzy tome published by HoZac Books earlier in 2022) will be hip to The Mutants having released a 3-song EP in 1980, plus one track, “Baby’s No Good,” on the contemporaneous compilation 415 Records (which offered a sampling of the output from the label founded by Howie Klein and Chris Knab).

These four cuts cohere into a quite the splendid gush of din and holler nicely emphasizing the band’s art school background, a sum that gets even better when The Mutants’ two live tracks, “Tribute to Russ Meyer” and “Monster of Love,” both from Optional Music’s 1980 comp Can You Hear Me? Music From the Deaf Club, are added to the equation. Those captured performances and the EP for 415 (but not “Baby’s No Good”) are amongst the bonus material on White Noise Records’ 2002 reissue of The Mutants’ Fun Terminal, the LP originally released in ’82 by the Mutiny Shadow International label.

That the extra cuts deliver a sustained highpoint to the reissued Fun Terminal shouldn’t be taken as a dismissal of the proper album, though those 13 tracks do document a band that had gotten as energetically hooky as they were arty, and in a manner sometimes reminiscent of The B-52’s. Please understand that Fun Terminal’s sessions began with producer Paul Wexler (who was behind the boards for The Go-Go’s “We Got the Beat”) as the album was brought to fruition with the help of San Fran experimentalist Snakefinger (aka guitarist Philip Lithman).

Shorn of its reissue extras, Fun Terminal is still an okay listen, but Curse of the Easily Amused is preferable, for starters because the sound is more full-bodied and lacking in pro-like gloss (everything here has been given a fresh mix), even as five of the tracks derive from the sessions with Wexler, three of them, “Odd Man Out,” “Love Song,” and “Too Much Too Soon,” having previously appeared as bonuses on the Fun Terminal CD. All three benefit from the added heft in the mix, heightening similarities to classic Cali power pop and even the song prowess of X.

The vocals of White and Webster do mildly suggest the Rezillos if they sprang to life in the Bay Area rather than Edinburgh, Scotland, and that’s just fine. The title of the record’s opener, “PARTY!,” would seem to deepen this boisterous celebratory scenario, but cut in ’79, the song is chunkier, with an air of paranoid tension and an even heavier X vibe. It’s a solid fit with the vocal nervousness heard in “Think Think Think” and the bold raw riffing of “Sofa Song,” both also from ’79.

Impressively, Curse of the Easily Amused is surprisingly cohesive as a comp LP, with two other ’81 recordings cut with Wexler and Snakefinger, “Modern Conversation” and “The Other Government,” rolling rather seamlessly with entries of a slightly earlier vintage, e.g. “Insect Lounge,” one of their very best songs, represented here through a ’78 recording, “W.A.S.P.,” cut in studio in ’79, plus the circa ’80-’81 live tracks “Noises and Numbers,” “Space Song,” (from the Mabuhay Gardens) and “Tribute to Russ Meyer” (recorded at Target, not the Deaf Club).

Tinged synth and harmonica, the ’85 track “Missing in Action,” one of eight songs here previously unreleased on CD or vinyl, does stick out a bit in the overall scheme, but it’s far from a misfire. Punk era odds and ends collections have a tendency to dish a few highs amid sustained stretches of the underwhelming, but Curse of the Easily Amused is a consistently pleasurable ride, recommended to those who like a little fun in their punk.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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