Friendly as a Hand Grenade – (4.5 / 5)
Very much a political and leftist leaning album, the radical sounds of Tackhead were the logical conclusion to percussionist Keith Leblanc’s years of experiments. After helping to create some of the most influential hip -hop tracks of all time in the late 1970’s and early 80’s with Sugarhill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” and Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”, LeBlanc and fellow cohorts guitarist Skip McDonald and bassist Doug Wimbish recruited singer Bernard Fowler to create a combo meant to set fire to the world of music. Their manifesto is pretty clear with song titles such as “Free South Africa”, “Body to Burn” and “Mind and Movement”, establishing a political stance to the already abrasive techno and industrial music beats and samples.
Repetitive but revolutionary, the slogans of “we were walking right on the edge” from “Ticking Time Bomb” and the sarcastic military romp featuring a children’s choir on “Airborn Ranger” are songs of pain and mock the powers that be (this song also has a clever sample of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” weaved in the middle). These songs also have many abrasive and unfriendly noises and sounds scattered throughout, making the record a purposeful challenge to listen to. None of this blunt political commentary would mean anything if the music was not also entertaining and meaningful. Opening salvo “Tell Me the Hurt” shows off the funk driven, sparse sound of the group very well. The musical genres of gospel and industrial merge on this album as never before, and the masterwork of the album is probably “Stealing” with its mantra “stealing in the name of the lord / I take donations from all denominations” with soulful chanting as the background music.
So why is this album so unknown? Probably because as interesting as the samples and commentary is, one does have to get past a rather cheap sounding production that sounds more like early 1980’s than late 1980’s. Also, some of the songs are a little tedious, like the overlong “Mind and Movement” and the sample of Prince Buster’s “Ska Trek” not once but twice. It is a rather short album as well, containing only seven full length songs in thirty five minutes. But looking past the limitations Leblanc and crew had to work with, it is easy to see how this album influenced many acts of the 1990’s in the alternative dance (Dalek, Soul Coughing, Algiers) and Trip Hop (Portishead, Massive Attack, Golden Palominos) genres. Just because the sound of the record is dated and sounds tame by todays harder hitting standards does not mean it was not completely revolutionary for its time, and the best songs on Friendly as a Hand Grenade hold up to the toughest scrutiny and deserve to be heard by anyone who yearns for revolutionary music.
Best Songs: Stealing, Ticking Time Bomb, Demolition House, Airborn Ranger