When my music tastes began to expand in such a way roughly amounting to my switching to rap to the exclusion of everything else for more or less a decade, it didn't take me too long to work out that there wasn't much point paying attention to anything said in Melody Maker or other music papers catering to fans of Oasis and Primal Scream. The good stuff, whatever form it might take, probably wasn't going to be the sort of thing which would appeal to someone fancying a change of tone from a steady diet of Jarvis Cocker and that bloke who wrote the Father Ted theme tune. Happily both Tower Records and Maestro in Peckham carried issues of Murder Dog, an American import covering the sort of thing which had drawn my interest, and that was where I first heard of the Dayton Family, amongst other regional acts failing to make significant inroads into the fanbase of Thousand Yard Stare.
Lacking an internet, I was obliged to buy my music from shops in the form of round things, which placed certain limits on what I could get hold of; so when this turned up in the racks of Rat Records in Camberwell, before I'd even got to the third syllable of holy shit I'd already bought the thing; and I was not disappointed.
The Dayton Family were named after Dayton Avenue in the city of Flint, Michigan, one of those urban strips concerning which the first ten Google hits will be posts on forums advising you against going there under any circumstances. Needless to say, whilst many of the tracks on this album describe life on Dayton Avenue, not many are likely to end up as soundtrack to television commercials for real estate or urban development. This is because the Dayton Family are, it could be argued, fucking terrifying.
It may not surprise you to learn that the album is probably not for you if you dislike sex, violence, or swearing as themes, because specifically What's On My Mind? speaks principally to other folks living on either the same street or one of equivalent shittiness. In case the usual disclaimer is necessary, it's an amoral glorification of everything you might be scared of in the same way that an episode of The Wire constitutes an inspirational testament to the economic benefits of investment in the crack industry. As may be obvious, this is some angry shit, gangsta for sure, and yet it steers a path between the righteous moral fortitude of Public Enemy and the fully ign'ant fury of NWA. In fact, once you take the beats into account, you may notice that What's On My Mind? is very much its own thing.
Steve Pitts production is hard and sharp, uncluttered and thus leaving plenty of room for bluesy stabs of electric piano kept in line by the relentless pulse of tinny drum machines underpinned with a ton of bass. It has an oddly organic feel for something so mercilessly programmed, even on those few basic tracks which could almost have sprung from a couple of Roland boxes rigged together. It would be g-funk but for hints at some sort of gangstafied version of the theme from Mission: Impossible.
Of course, what makes the album are the Dayton Family themselves, three angry guys and not a weak link between them, all shouting a variation on the same machine gun delivery, hardly a pause for breath and not a syllable left unused; and all this hitting you in the face for about an hour, as exhausting and exhilarating as running from the cops - probably - if you've ever had to do that sort of thing, and obviously I haven't. Lyrically they may not be big on acrobatics but the power of the stories is overwhelming:
A lot is on my mind, there's a lot of pressure pressing me.
America and it's system, I figure that they testing me.
I fall and catch myself, falling in my wisdom,
Daddies raping daughters and having sex with them,
My mother's turning tricks, and I'm no keener I know,
My sister had a baby and she's eating off the floor.
I'm going through a thang.
My mind's about to crack.
Somebody took my sack.
I gots to take it back.
See? If you can't tell the difference between that and 50 Cent talking about what a great party he just went to and how they had cake and everything, then you're an idiot. The ancestry of What's On My Mind? may not be obvious within the first couple of listens, but it's nevertheless your basic hard, grinding blues in response to the modern equivalent of whatever was pissing off those guys way back whenever, stories which really need to be told rather than lifestyle advice, and this is a classic album of its kind. Those who would disagree are doubtless welcome to pop over to Dayton Avenue, Flint, and take it up with someone there.
Yeah - I didn't think so.