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A visit to the snarky world of the Gay Blades

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Sure, music writers compare the Gay Blades to David Bowie, Mott the Hoople and Queen. And yes, they often use the word "swagger," as in a "spoonful of swagger," "swagger-soaked live show" and "enough swagger, strut and snark to make the forefathers (Bowie, Mercury) of their genre proud." So often, in fact, that a search for "Gay Blades" and "swagger" turned up 40,600 results.

But the very best of the lot comes from England's NME, which issued the following warning: "Prepare to have your love defibrillated by the raw, garagey sound of these two reprobates, strutting on to our airwaves with more saw-riffed swagger than a dog with two dicks and a cougar's yowl."

Frontman Dean Wells, who also handles guitars in the NYC-based duo, takes a moment to ponder the idea.

"I guess a dog with two dicks would be forced to walk differently because of the second appendage," he admits. "I don't necessarily understand that quote all that much. But I do love it, because it sounds aggressive and really fun."

As do the Blades, most of the time, although their new album, Savages, includes more moments of seriousness than their 2008 Ghosts debut. Part of the reason for that was the death of Wells' kid brother, whose nickname, Savage, inspired the album title.

"Obviously, when he passed away it was a really hard time," says Wells, who was on tour then, and couldn't afford to fly home for the funeral. "Savage was a massive punk rock fan, especially of the Sex Pistols and early '80s punk."

So when it came time to record "Try to Understand," which he's described as an open letter to his family, Wells leaned toward making it a punk-inspired anthem. But producer Dean Baltulonis, who's best known for his work with the Hold Steady, ended up broadening the sound when he suggested bringing in World/Inferno Friendship Society's Peter Hess to add horn arrangements.

"It was so not Gay Blades," says Wells, who, I should mention, uses the pseudonym Clark Westfield, the name of a New Jersey turnpike exit. (Drummer Quinn English, in turn, adopted the name Puppy Mills.) "It came across as this over-the-top Adam Ant meets, I don't even know what, Pulp or something. It's really awesome and something nobody would have expected. And after that, we were just like, all right, we have to keep doing things that are fresh."

Hess and trumpeter Justin Mullens also feature on "Mick Jagger," which Wells describes as "more of a David Bowie-inspired effort than a Rolling Stones-inspired effort."

Wells is referring to the ill-advised Jagger/Bowie team-up for a remake of Martha & the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street."

"Oh man, it's so uncomfortable, it's the best," protests Wells. "It's great!"

And maybe it is, at least if you share the Gay Blades' combination of reverence and irreverence. The band's other defining character remains Wells' voice, although there's less cougar yowl these days. Even so, he says, a manic attitude and strong vibrato can always be counted on to mask missed notes.

"I like the sound of my voice at times," insists Wells. "At other times, I want to murder it. But it works, it does what I ask it to do half the time. And I think that's pretty good."

bill@csindy.com

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