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Summer Album Roundup : Unforgiven: Cleaning Up

June 29, 1986

"THE UNFORGIVEN." The Unforgiven. Elektra. They're big, they're tough, they're mean, they're mad, they haven't shaved in days and they're here to clean up this here Melrose Avenue. They're the Unforgiven, the hokiest buncha Clint Eastwood fans ever to put on long black coats, cowboy hats and electric guitars and make a career out of growling into the mirror. This is the kind of group that obviously came up with the image first and the songs later, which is just the way the record companies like 'em these days. Yee-haw!

At least one song among the many Leone/Eastwood/etc. titles here, "All Is Quiet on the Western Front," is good campy fun. But Wall of Voodoo already parodied this proto-Western territory years ago, and with a thousand times less obviousness.

Leader John Henry Jones isn't sure whether to mock the cliches he trots out or to embrace them, so he tries to have it both ways: "The Ghost Dance" purports to celebrate American Indian heritage even as the chorus features repeated cries of "Yippee-yi-yay."

Then there's the closing guitar instrumental of "Amazing Grace," which isn't such a bad capper until the band feels compelled to let loose with shouts of "testify," just to make sure you know the whole thing's a joke.

This is a one-joke, one-album concept, but the band's impact may go beyond that. The Unforgiven has turned what was left of country-punk into a costume party, the sort of signal that's always a sure-fire death knell for any sub-genre.--CHRIS WILLMAN

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