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The Clams - The Complete Clams/Cindy Lawson - New Tricks (Rum Bar)

1 June 2022

Considering the embarrassment of riches that was the Minneapolis alternative rock scene in the eighties and nineties, it was inevitable that some cool acts would get lost in the shuffle. Enter the Clams, a hard-nosed quartet led by singer Cindy Lawson and lead guitarist Roxie Terry that drew more from the Stones, Chuck Berry and Detroit than Big Star or the Buzzcocks. While the band can certainly sweeten up when they want to (cf. “Give Me a Reason,” “What’s Wrong With This Picture?”), they’re more comfortable with rough ‘n’ tumble rockers like “Eat My Words,” “Crazy Boys,” a gleeful mugging of the Who’s “Squeeze Box,” and album opener/calling card “Run Baby Run.” “If you don’t want me, you can find yourself a saint,” Lawson sneers on a cover of the New York Dolls’ “Human Being,” which sums up where this sadly short-lived band was coming from nicely. As billed, The Complete Clams compiles everything the band recorded during the Reagan years: demos, singles, covers, comp tracks and the contents of their 1988 Exile on Lake Street EP.

Following the Clams’ demise, Lawson and Terry formed the even briefer lifespanned Whoops Kitty (look for 1996’s self-titled LP) before Lawson struck out on her own. Her first new music since Kitty, New Tricks revisits childhood influences from girl groups and glam rock, and filters them through the lens of experience and nostalgia. “How It Feels” kicks off the short album with a rocking reminiscence of the teen years, and Lawson keeps looking fondly back on the wistful “Dream Baby” and late singer/songwriter Lori Wray’s wry “Nope.” But she’s still got her feet planted in the present, as evidenced by the rootsy “The Devil’s in the Details,” the power popping “I’m Not the Only One” and the angrily rocking “I’m Loaded” and “Let’s Pretend.” Maturity has been good for the Lawson muse – if anything, her songs are sharper and her vocals stronger now than in the heyday of the Clams. New Tricks may be slightly ironic – there’s nothing here musically that couldn’t have been predicted by her Clams oeuvre – but Lawson is doing it better than ever, so new ain’t as important as fresh.