Haven’t Slept All Year
Label: Scat Records
Cobra Verde are veteran rockers from Cleveland. They managed get noticed by the kind of kids who DON’T own the Nuggets box by appearing in an episode of The OC as a cover band toiling away at Foreigner’s “A Girl Like You.” For a band schooled by T. Rex and Johnny Thunders and made up of wise, old dogs, you’ve got to take whatever exposure you can get today. Those rushing to their laptops to help make the tune a hit on iTunes likely listened to some of 2005’s Copycat Killers, the band’s wildly fun, all-covers record, which had them staking an impressive claim on songs by Hawkwind, Pink, New Order and the Undertones, to name a few. That disc is worth its weight in gold for it’s mind-blowing version of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” I hope those kids shelled out the $9.99 for the whole thing; it’s too good a record to not be mentioned in a review of their first album of original material in five years, Haven’t Slept All Year.
When I saw Cobra Verde open for the reformed MC5 in 2005, singer John Petkovic worked himself up into a boozy, whiplash frenzy, coming pretty close to me with his mic stand when he wasn’t letting loose on some bizarre between-song banter (“I miss my cat, at home…I wish people could be my cats!). His rock ‘n’ roll workout was filled with an abandon I hadn’t ever really seen live, growing up with stoic performers in the ’90s who appeared beleaguered, not energized, by audience adoration; what I didn’t know at the time was that Petkovic’s day job was as a film, fashion and music critic. Guitarist Frank Vazzano is a rock ‘n’ roll professor at Cleveland State, in addition to looking like a lost Blondie member and drummer Mark Klein is currently writing a “dissertation on the influence of Germanic culture on American heavy metal.” In other words, these guys know what’s up. They’ve probably listened to more cool records than you or I could name and have an inherent sense of what works in the song and what doesn’t. In fact, the back cover of Copycat Killers contains the phrase “Kill the Singer/Save the Song.”
Not once does Haven’t Slept All Year sound banally retro or disappointingly derivative. On “Can’t Believe,” Cobra Verde’s sound brims with the anthemic bittersweetness of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and on “World Can’t Have Her” they use a series of battering ram power chords as effectively as Angus Young at his best. Not to say that these are poses struck by Cobra Verde; it’s that they are masters of the idioms that keep us revisiting our record collections for that certain something.
They’re equally as good at producing themselves. It’s a loud record meant to be played loud, showcasing guitars by Vazzano and Tim Parnin, that are beefy when they need to be and full of sting when necessary. Klein’s drums pound and smash like they ought to and Ed Angel Sotelo’s bass isn’t buried in the mix but is vital to the tunes’ dynamics. Petkovic sounds like a goofball he’s just too smart to be, leading a refrain of “I’m in love with strippers on drugs!” in “Riot in the Foodcourt,” yet he’s able to dial it down to turn in the earnest “Haunted Heavens,” which recalls how he nailed Leonard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne” on Copycat Killers.
Cobra Verde are experts and Haven’t Slept All Year is a record of expertly played rock that never once comes off as mechanical or dispassionate. The record won’t change the world or spur any cultural revolution but rock wasn’t ever really good for either of those, anyway. This music will, however, remind you just why you started buying records in the first place.
by Chris Middleman