X - Wild Gift (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Wild Gift (1981)

Slash Records

While they were part of the original '77 run of punk bands, seminal California act X couldn't get a proper record deal until Slash Records came along and released Los Angeles in 1980. The one upside to this delay: By the time they hooked up with Slash, X started dropping records at a rapid clip. Just over a year after Los Angeles came out, X was back again the fantastic Wild Gift.

Los Angeles is where you go if you want to hear X at its most raw. The tunes sound dirty and threatening, and that goes double for the lyrics (See "Johnny Hit and Run Paulene"). Wild Gift, though, marks the band's progression towards a more rockabilly approach. Given that the tunes were either '70s leftovers ("I'm Coming Over," "It's Who You Know") or brand new reactions from the recently married songwriting team of Exene Cervenka and John Doe ("White Girl," "In This House That I Call Home"), it's about as literally a crossroads record as one can get.

Some of the tracks ("We're Desperate," "Adult Books") date all the way back to a 1978 single. "We're Desperate" probably could have been on Los Angeles, but "Adult Books" marks new musical territory for the band, as drummer D.J. Bonebreak and guitarist Billy Zoom rock out a Latin groove as Cervenka and Doe spin another yarn about urban destitution. Another shift can be heard in "White Girl." While Zoom's guitar is as menacing as ever, the band lets mood take precedence over a fast tempo.

Really, though, X's biggest change was in the lyrics. Writing about despair and desolation was always Cervenka and Doe's m.o., but here they start writing about each other. "Beyond and Back" covers their spats ("You took a lot from me / I forgot you were a thief"). "White Girl" expresses Doe's secret lust for another woman. "When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch" retroactively sums up the couple's whole relationship.

Ultimately, though, these differences are miniscule. Ain't Love Grand aside, there's a line that stretches through all of X's records. Wild Gift picks up plenty of the darkness heard on Los Angeles while laying the groundwork for the country leanings of Under the Big Black Sun. If anything, it's like a psychobilly record without any horror or sci-fi themes to hide behind, and it's that kind of grit that makes it one of the saddest and greatest punk albums of all time.