Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tripping over a Treasure: Guadalcanal Diary’s Flip-Flop

Like many audiophiles, I’m always on the lookout for a deal. Or make that value for the money. On the continuing time warp though my personal CD collection, I finally mustered up the motivation to listen to Guadalcanal Diary’s album “Flip-Flop” (1988). As best as I can figure, I must have picked up this disc around 1998, when I moved away from the Los Angeles Basin to the San Francisco Bay Area. For old time’s sake, I made a final visit to The Wherehouse before leaving. If you came from L.A. in the 90s, you’ll remember it was the record store as ubiquitous as Starbucks is now for coffee houses. But I digress.

I found this particular music collection in the used closeout section for—I kid you not—99 cents—the price tag was still on the jewel box when I dug it out. I’d always been aware of Guadalcanal Diary in a vague sort of way. Familiar with the name but not the music. They were probably in the L.A. Times Calendar section a lot or in rotation on Alternative Music station KROQ back then. So I thought, “What the heck, it’s only 99 cents.” But I dunno, I could never get passed the album artwork—somehow a guy’s foot and a pair of flip-flops as the lead image on a wooden pier background didn’t appeal to me. So there is sat, unlistened to for those 16 years in my CD rack.

When I finally put it into the CD player in my car, I was nearly amazed. I was immediately attracted to the track “The Likes of You,” with its observations of the 1 percent living large at the expense of us in the 99 percent. It appeals to my “us vs. them” mentality. With images of Cadillac limousines and high fashion magazines, Guadalcanal Diary burns the plutocracy in effigy right before your very ears. Lyrics such as “If I never saw you again | well then a thousand years would only be too soon” seared into my consciousness upon impact. The guitar playing is also notable for its inventiveness, with at times an almost bagpipe sonic quality being produced. Close to when I started playing this CD, a woman in a convertible BMW passed me on a side street and on the license plate was “HEIRESS.” I felt the irony was too great to not crank up the volume on this one and serenade her.

I was almost as equally enamored of the cut “Whiskey Talk.” With a catchy riff and a story of a woman slandering a man’s name all over the South—Guadalcanal Diary hails from Athens, Georgia, the same stomping grounds that produced REM and the B-52’s, among others—it’s hard to figure out why the rock ‘n’ roll public didn’t take this group serious, to paraphrase the song itself.

The only real quibble with this archival material was the mix (I probably have the unremastered original). The final tape understates the bottom end with the drums way down low. But this is easily remedied by upping the bass channel. So keep a lookout in the Bargain Bins at your local vinyl outlet—if you still have one. You never know what you can find for a few pennies. As they say in the original “RoboCop” movie, “I’d buy that for a dollar!

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener

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