Bombs Away

Columbus's finest, the New Bomb Turks, call it a day after 12 action-packed years.

Have a blast: The New Bomb Turks' discography is among the finest of American punk bands.
Have a blast: The New Bomb Turks' discography is among the finest of American punk bands.
For a man who once penned an anthem titled "So Long Silver Lining," New Bomb Turks frontman Eric Davidson is still pretty good at finding that very thing.

"Despite any sadness that I did feel on the recent European tour, I got more action than I ever have," Davidson says with a chuckle, referring to his band's final tour abroad, which the Turks completed a few weeks back. "I just want to point that out." It's a fitting rejoinder from the ever-affable Davidson, for even as he contemplates his band's last show -- at the Beachland on New Year's Eve -- the guy remains as upbeat as the Turks' hard-charging sound.

"Shit, we've been doin' it since 1990," Davidson says. "It's not like we haven't tried. I think I would feel more sad and down about it if we had only gone at it for three, four, five years and only done a couple of records, but we really created a catalog." Indeed, the Turks' discography, which includes six full-length albums and scads of singles and EPs, establishes them as one of the finest American punk bands to have ever made the rounds. Sure, the band never found much mainstream acceptance or sold that many records, but from the outset, that was never what this bunch was about.

"From an early point in my life, I understood that being from Ohio, most people aren't gonna give a fuck," says Davidson, who yaks with the same speed and gusto he brings to his vocals. "So we all kinda knew early on to not worry about fame -- just have fun with it." Having fun is what made the band practically revolutionary.

When the Turks formed in the early '90s, punk was beginning to resemble the musical sterility found in ubiquitous acts like Rush. And the fans weren't much more exciting. Hardcore co-op houses were full of future professionals hiding their vices from each other, training their cats to go vegan, and debating the complex etiquette of the mosh pit. Sound like fun?

Into this Stalinist nightmare crashed four born comedians with blazing Cro-Magnon riffs, a heavy dose of '50s-style kitsch, unforgivably pun-filled lyrics, and song titles such as "Bullish on Bullshit." "At the time, 'punk' had all these kind of serious political connotations," says Davidson, "I like Fugazi, but Fugazi was definitely the Nirvana of those bands: They're really good, but everything they ever influenced just sucks."

Back in the day, then, the Turks weren't exactly greeted with the friendliest of audiences. "A lot of the kids that would go to the shows were just kind of confused," Davidson recalls. "I'm like 'What are you confused about?' I don't understand -- music is supposed to be uplifting. It should get you charged up."

A fourth-wall-smashing frontman in the tradition of Iggy Pop, Davidson definitely has his own way of doing just that. "Sometimes I take guys' baseball hats and shove 'em down my pants," he says. "I don't know why."

While the Turks' live show has kept its giddy abandon, the band's albums have transcended garage punk altogether. Though the unsung, diamond-tough Nightmare Scenario, released in 2000, should have topped critics' lists as the hard rock album of the year, it was too heavy to sail the prevailing pop-punk winds. The new The Night Before the Day the Earth Stood Still takes bigger risks, adding horns, organs, a theremin, and -- of all things -- a touch of introspection.

The album's swinging, almost New Orleans-style title track was inspired by Davidson's explosive final argument with a longtime girlfriend. The song, however, is hardly your typical romantic lament. Written a few days after Davidson had caught a TV showing of the campy 1951 movie that the title references, the song satirizes his breakup by reimagining it as a sci-fi apocalypse. "I was trying to imagine a more interesting outcome," he says. "So I made it that aliens took me away, which would have been a lot easier than me moving all my shit out of the house the next day."

While that song has Davidson screaming about anal probes in a Mick Jagger-meets-Joey Ramone psychotic drawl, the album's 11th track, "Like Ghosts," is a true departure from his usual shenanigans. It's a dark folk-rock number that recalls the Plimsouls and the Smithereens in their prime, and Davidson sings it with a passionate, crackling croon. In between, the album is packed with the rapid Stonesy gems that have been the Turks' stock-in-trade.

Over the years, that approach has caught more and more people by the ears and created a trend of its own. "I don't wanna claim any sort of responsibility for this," says Davidson, with characteristic self-deprecation, "but it seems like, through the years, more bands kind of understand the sense-of-humor thing again."

Well, more or less. Hang out in punk clubs nowadays, and you'll find a different universe from the one the Turks were born into. These days, nothing is less fashionable than macho, straight-edged Puritanism. The Stones and the Stooges are back in the pantheon, along with lesser-known punk godfathers such as N.Y.C.'s Dictators, who are still kicking -- and arguably, one of the few American bands that could do any damage in a battle with the Turks.

But the return of silliness and scruff is hardly all it's cracked up to be. In fact, the paradigm shift has created an aesthetic of motor oil and obnoxiousness to rival the rigidity of soy milk and moping intensity. And so the Turks are moving on after a great run. "Sam [Brown], our drummer, he has a baby now, and he's in this other band, the Sun. Jim [Weber, guitars] is back in school getting his teaching degree, and I want to get back to school," Davidson says. "I'm sure we might play a show here or there, maybe, but we're not going to do any more touring. We'd rather go out when we're still having fun and we're still good live."

Indeed, the band's farewell show should be a suitably overblown sendoff. "We've got friends from France coming, from California, Texas, Green Bay," Davidson beams. "People are coming from all over."

You'd do well to make sure you're one of them.