Hindu Love Gods was a side project of REM members, without Michael Stipe, with Warren Zevon as lead singer on the eponymous album released in 1990, with mostly blues covers and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret,” Georgia Satellites’ “Battleship Chains“, “I’m a One-Woman Man” and Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man” as the non-blues cuts.
According to the official legend these tracks were cut in a single night during the sessions for a Warren Zevon album on which the REM guys were playing, and were not intended for release, though one wonders why the songs were recorded so well in the first place if there was no intention to release.
Frankly, I have never cared much for REM because their jangly style of indie pop rock just did not do it for me and I have never understood how REM got to be big, important and significant. The only REM album I’ve ever liked, is Monster (1994) and that is because it sounds like the kind of mid-Sixties garage band punk I am fond of.
The Hindu Love Gods (1990) record came in a rough, industrial looking cardboard sleeve, as if it were some bootleg. This must obviously have been intentional, given the story of the drunken recording session that was not meant for public consumption. I cannot even remember whether the band members were identified anywhere on the cover. I bought it at budget price, probably from Ragtime Records in the Golden Acre of Cape Town, because the band name rang a vague bell (I would have read a review of the album in one of the UK pop monthlies I was buying at the time) and because of the recognisable blues tunes of the track listing.
Allegedly the blues are in the air Americans breathe and is supposed to live somewhere in the very heart and soul of American musicians whether they play the music or not. I would never have thought of the REM guys or Warren Zevon to have had any background in blues and perhaps they learnt the songs on the night they recorded them, but some of these songs are such standards that I would think the guys could well have learnt to play the. Long before. REM was formed in Athens, Georgia, in die heart of the South where blues come from and this must be where they at least heard, or had an opportunity to hear, blues.
The band did not try to recreate an authentic blues band vibe. They were having fun and turned up the amps and rocked out, with the blues tropes as the cornerstones. Someone must’ve had a fondness for the music of Prince, whose “Raspberry Beret” was a mid-Eighties hit for him from the psychedelic experimentation era of Around The World In A Day. The Georgia Satellites was a good, old-fashioned Southern rock and roll band that made a number of albums of good time, frat party rock and roll.
The album opens with two Robert Johnson tunes, although firs cut “Walking Blues” is also associated with Muddy Waters whose “Mannish Boy” is a highlight of this set. The guys do Albert King’s “Crosscut Saw,” and “Wang Dang Doodle”, which is associated with Howlin’ Wolf. The playing is tough and Zevon growls the blues with the appropriate menace without trying to sound too black. I would also never thought that Peter Buck could play like this, with a really vicious attack at times, without aping any recognisable blues guitar style. He mainly sticks to sharp rhythm guitar
“Junko Partner” is an old New Orleans piano blues I associate, in different versions, with Jelly Roll Morton and Champion Jack Dupree, and now also Hugh Laurie, and here this piece of New Orleans braggadocio is performed with a swaggering insouciance that probably makes it the centre point of the whole album. This is the tune I would have put out as the potential hit single off the album.
Both “Raspberry Beret” and “Battleship Chains” are taken at a fast, joyous lick that suits two frat party anthems. One can visualize the Hindu Love Gods, in Pacific Northwest punk finery, being filmed as the house band at some dingy dive in a Sixties teen exploitation movie, knocking out cover versions like these for the dancing pleasure of a drunk college crowd.
Maybe that is the high concept of the album: the boys wanted to make a record in the style of the punk forebears who were inspired by the Rolling Stones and Yardbirds and who played a mixture of straightforward rock and roll and rocked up blues with a psychedelic twist. The Hindu Love Gods could have been a long lost combo from Portland, Oregon who were major movers on their local hometown circuit, managed to get out this one record and never meant diddley squat in the rest of the world.
This record is good fun and rocks like a Tasmanian devil.