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Sarah Tomlinson (AMG)

The Murder City Devils strutted onto the scene with their 1997 eponymous debut, which unleashed straight-ahead punk weighted down with the leg irons of heavy rock. The creepy-crawly organ lends a horror movie mood, and the gravelly growl of Spencer Moody's voice evokes all the despair of finding yourself alone again at last call. Along with layers of sleazy rock guitar, these foundations make the Murder City Devils a raw rock force to be reckoned with; however, on this album the band is still finding its sea legs. These were the days when Moody still had his Poindexter image — neat Oxford shirt and round glasses on a cherubic face — hinting that his punk was all inside, until he released his demons onstage. The poor recording quality, which has thin sound and tinny drums, deflects from the songs' power. The album has an intoxicating grit and swagger, though, with moments that shine. The keyboards on "Dance Hall Music" tempt with melodic quicksand that provides a backbone to thick muddy guitars. And "Boom Swagger Boom" is a classic of self-assured sexy fun with a playful campiness — handclaps punctuate a slinky spy theme melody with Moody's gruff voice joined by coy female backing vocals. "Get Off the Floor" is hard driving punk with a sly guitar and pulverizing lyrics, highlighting Moody's ability to take a few words and drive them into your skull, making a song out of repetition and varied rhythm. A good choice for those interested in the progression of this rock outfit or those who prefer a stripped-down punk production, but not the rock & roll rampage of the later works.

Lorrie Edmonds (Montreal Mirror)

As first offering from a new subsidiary of Sub Pop's empire, this debut disc walks in carrying a lot of weight on its nimble shoulders. Thankfully, the Murder City Devils chuck any sense of responsibility when they step up to kick out these brawling, rough 'n' raw jams ("Murder City Riot," "Boom Swagger Boom"). Death to the cocktail nation at last! 7/10