Cable – Last Call

4 out of 5

Label: Translation Loss

Produced by: Various

In reading reviews for Cable’s Last Call – a seemingly career-ending compilation released in 2005, prior to their return a couple times over in the years following – I’m so pleased, but not surprised, to see many discussing how influential the band was. Amidst a glut of hardcore rock from the mid 90s and onward, it can get a bit lost how much of a standout Cable’s material is, with their entire discography always boasting an intense energy and balance of simple riffs and compositional density that’s rarely been matched, such that even their debut still comes across as fiery, and unique. But not often reading the group’s name on lists of all-time-greats, since I came to the party late, I just supposed they shared some common starting point with the more commonly referenced genre stalwarts, with my tastes running more towards Cable’s brand of Southern rock menace.

However, something about Last Call seemed to bring all the more-informed proponents of the band out of the woodwork to properly speak to Cable’s role within the scene: that the originality I was hearing was not just an affect of my limited musical education. This compilation appropriately steps through the group’s history up until 2005, solidifying how consistently good (and ferocious) they were, across their various stylistic shifts.

Things open with a new addition, the title track, a sprawling 7+ minute journey of sludge that is the (then) endpoint at which Cable had arrived, summarizing its punk and rock influences into a stomping slurry of late-night barroom brawls and stretches of murky, let-it-ring riffing. The following 6 tracks capture the group’s “last” set at CBGB’s, surely settling any doubt – if there had been any – the immensity of their sound was at all a studio conceit; crisply recorded and balanced such that all members’ efforts are clear, the minimal banter between songs suggests a good atmosphere, rattled into assured moshing madness by the blast of music, concluding with another 7-minute rush – Pigs Never Fly. Hereafter, the collection steps back, album by album, with a choice song from each release from Pigs Never Fly to their self-titled 1996 release. A final, raw and live recording of Gutter Queen (from ’96) closes things out.

While it’s absolutely interesting to hear the group’s evolution in reverse, from sludge masters to Southern hardcore to their very punky start, and all of the selected tracks are quality, the setup can’t help but lose a step behind the all-time performance of the new track and live set. While physically separating the material onto 2 discs is just that, a physical change, it might’ve helped for perception: one disc being a full live set; the other being a broader, more curated Best Of. Cable’s original material works so well in its initial formats that plucking out these few selections feels rather limited, and not necessarily as impactful as on the source. If someone wants a one-stop listen for an example of the band, this definitely works, but I suspect many existing fans – me, for example – jam out to the first half of the disc, then are less engaged on the latter half, perhaps switching it out to listen to the full albums anyway. The closing cover of Gutter Queen is fun, for how absolutely savage it is, but also not something that begs to be exclusively listened to.

Padding this, though, is a second disc: a DVD, with a recording of the Last Call show, and an hour-long documentary that helps to fill in the blanks on the group’s history. While I’d still be rating this disc highly based on the strength of the first 8 tracks (and, again, that the remaining songs are great – just better experienced in context), the DVD extras certainly push it back over the line.