“New Dark Ages” by the Radiators (1995)
When the Radiators called it quits in 2011 after 33 years together, it hardly registered in the mass public consciousness. The band had a three-record deal with a major label (peaking at No. 122 with “Zig-Zaggin’ Through Ghostland” in 1989) and released a few sundry studio albums otherwise.
But fans of the Radiators – Fish Heads, as they’re known – lamented the end of an era. The band, which consisted of the same five musicians for most of its existence, was one that you had to see in concert to fully appreciate its talent, depth and ability to work the crowd with its NOLA-infused rock.
Among the studio releases, my favorite is “New Dark Ages,” which also happened to be the Radiators’ first album after its contract with Epic expired. It’s loaded with songs that conveyed the energy of a Rads concert, and many became standards for subsequent shows.
The proceedings kick of with “Umbilical,” which features a suitably catchy call-and-response chorus and lyrics the band liked to change to suit current events: For example, a live version circa the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky era refers to “the president” and a “cute little intern.”
“The Last Getaway” is a cheerful piece of wishful thinking by guitarist Dave Malone, and “Fine Life” takes kind of the opposite tack, the title ironically referrig to the travails of “Shorty” and what can go wrong with life in general.
Other highlights include “Papaya,” the intense rhythm of which best exemplifies the Radiators’ New Orleans roots, and “River Run,” featuring a wholly infectious groove. The album closes with its only cover, Jesse Winchester’s “How Far to the Horizon,” which the band tended to take to epic lengths in concert.
The Radiators packed it in with three shows on June 9-11, 2011, at Tipitina’s in their hometown. The lineup was the same as when the band first took the stage in 1978: Malone; Ed “Zeke” Volker on keyboards; Camile Baudoin on lead guitar; Reggie Scanlan on bass; and Frank Bua on drums.
If you missed them in concert, as Fats Domino, another New Orleans fixture, sang: Ain’t that a shame.
Camile Baudoin, photographed by Harry Funk, 2006