If ever something could be called a labor of love, Jungle Records' Born Too Loose is probably it. Delving into New York's back alleys, this two-disc set collects many of Johnny Thunders' finest moments. Given Thunders' legendary penchant for sloppy, unfocused performances (both live and in the studio), this is no mean feat. The collection spotlights the guitarist's post-New York Dolls career, compiling a healthy 39 tracks of studio and unreleased live material. Disc One contains studio recordings drawn mostly from the Jungle catalog. The first three tracks -- "Born to Lose," "Chinese Rocks," and "It's Not Enough" -- are taken from the L.A.M.F. Lost Mixes album, and are tight, nervy examples of the Heartbreakers' three-chord bloodbath. The disc continues with material from the solo albums Hurt Me, Que Sera Sera, In Cold Blood, and the excellent 1988 collaboration with Patti Palladin, Copy Cats. "Crawfish" and the greasy gutter anthem "Little Bit of ******" are particular highlights, showing that in Thunders' streetwise hands, RB could be thrown to the ground, spit on, kicked in the head a couple of times, and still come out of it better for the beating. The first disc ends on a poignant note with a live version of "Society Makes Me Sad." Recorded shortly before Thunders died in 1991, the song illustrates the ex-Doll's thoughtful, introspective side -- a side that, sadly, was often overwhelmed by street-thug bluster and drug-addled indirection. Disc Two is a collector's delight, gathering 24 previously unreleased live tracks. These performances, which cover the late '70s to the late '80s, boast generally excellent sound quality (something not to be taken for granted when discussing live Thunders material) and show an artist at the top of his often shaky game. They include three unreleased Heartbreakers demos, five tracks taken from the second set of the group's infamous March 1977 show at London's Speakeasy, a series of solo acoustic numbers, and a brace of songs recorded in Italy and Switzerland during the '80s. The acoustic stuff is decidedly uneven. Thunders cuts a few numbers short, including his brilliant elegy for Sid Vicious, "Sad Vacation," and stumbles badly on a stab at Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." Despite these miscues, the collection does an admirable job of sifting through the dross in Thunders' catalog -- and there is a lot of it. While Born Too Loose is certainly not a definitive overview of Thunders' career -- it contains no tracks from So Alone, a dearth of material from Copy Cats, and nothing from his Dolls days -- it comes admirably close. Nina Antonia's excellent liner notes and Alan Hauser's year-by-year biography are nice touches, and give you the feeling that this project was approached with a measure of care and respect. By distilling the shadowy essence of Johnny Thunders into a well-conceived, quality package, Jungle may have finally done justice to one of rock's true lost greats. Andy Claps, Rovi
- Hard Rock, Rock & Roll/Roots
- Rock & Roll, Punk, New York Punk, American Punk, Proto-Punk, Hard Rock
- February 26, 2002
- Thunders Johnny
- Black Cats (Performer)
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