The Normals, Vacation to Nowhere (Last Laugh Records)

The Normals, Vacation to Nowhere, Last Laugh Records

Two extra-musical details: The CD/DVD package for the Normals’ Vacation to Nowhere comes with a set of 3D glasses, and when you pop the disc into iTunes, the genre category says “Religious.”

On the surface, neither of these things gives away the sound this New Orleans group captured in a Memphis studio in 1979 as will the fact it was lent a pop sheen by producer Mike Stewart of the Sweet and that the members of the Normals were equally as enamored of the Ramones’ singsong teenage cro-magnetism as they were the jittery, adrenalized Americana of X.

The Normals started in a garage in Jefferson in 1977 just as a million other punk bands were in garages all over the world, places where the cheapest guitars and three chords and a nascent sense of harmony resulted in perfect powered pop, sounding just sweet enough and dangerous enough to embody being Cold War kids on the hormonal edge.

Buy Vacation to Nowhere on iTunes
Buy Vacation to Nowhere on Amazon

Muddy as the production might be on the large, the CD is a hoot. “Around the Downtown” has the bop of punk when it was more excited than it was angry. “Same Old ‘76” and “What Do You Think of the USA?” give voice to the eternal post-adolescent questioning the status quo, while one of the best tracks on the album, the gangly “You Ain’t Nuthin’” perhaps offers the answer.

Included at the tail end of the CD, their 1978 single “Almost Ready”/”Hardcore” has a sharper muscle to it, the flare of energy one associated with the first wave of U.K.-inspired American punk. The same goes for the DVD, an expectedly lo-fi crowd single-camera shot of a Normals show at the New Place in Metairie from 1980. As with many New Wave bands, they found their stride when they stopped aping the Ramones or the Pistols — or whomever — and found their own groove. Charlie Hanson’s and David Brewton’s guitar work is more lyrical — the rhythm, more pointed than it is spiky. The singers Brewton, Hanson and drummer Chris Lockette — and really, the band itself — seem to be finding their voice just as they fizzled out in March 1980.

Until this collection, the Normals existed more in reference than artifact. The 3D-glasses may splash up the retro tri-color cover, the “Religious” genre designation in iTunes might speak to snotty ’80s irony, but ultimately, this collection offers a longer look at a part of New Orleans music history that pretty much only existed for a glimpse.

  • The ‘religious’ label has to do with the fact that there was a Christian rock band in the 90’s also called The Normals. That said, The Normals were easily one of the best bands of the punk era and it is way past time that they get their due. A documentary film is in the works covering the NOLA punk/new wave scene from the late 70’s/early 80’s.