An ‘A’ for effort

This album gives me a headache. And that’s actually a compliment.

Thee Michelle Gun Elephant plays its brand of rock ‘n’ roll really loud and really obnoxious. Play the band’s U.S. debut Gear Blues at any volume, and it’s still too much.

The Japanese quartet’s take on punk owes as much to the 12-bar-blues and surf rock as it does to the Ramones. It’s as if everything between the Beatles and Led Zeppelin never happened.

Call it “crotch rocket rock.” The band wears a lot of leather in the packaging for Gear Blues, and it’s not hard to imagine Harley Davidson devotees blaring this album in their earphones while tearing down the interstate.

From the uniform black to the ultra-cool shades, Thee Michelle Gun Elephant is a lot of attitude. Which is to say Gear Blues does little more than reinvent the wheel.

Vocalist Chiba Yusuke growls, screams and swears his way through Abe Futoshi’s cranked-to-11 garage rock riffs. You probably heard it all before, and you probably heard it better from other bands.

But what Thee Michelle Gun Elephant lacks in originality — a rather overrated concept, at times — they make up for in sheer gumption.

On the surface, tracks such as “Smokin’ Billy” and “G.W.D.” don’t really offer much other than really grungey guitars and choruses delivered in vocal-chord busting screams. But after a while, TMGE’s music becomes hypnotic. It’s simple. It’s guttaral. It’s the perfect soundtrack for letting your hair whip across your face (assuming your hair is long enough to do that.)

Alive/Total Energy calls Gear Blues, which was released in Japan two years ago, a “classic” album. Perhaps. If nothing else, this album is a textbook example of how image and attitude go a long way in the rock ‘n’ roll world. A very long way.