May 31, 2021
By Matthew Berlyant
It’s hard to believe that X’s second album Wild Gift is 40 this year. It jumps out of the speakers, immediately grabbing the listener’s attention, and still sounds like it was recorded just the other day. Why? The crisp, bare-bones, but clear production by ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who produced each of X’s first four Lps, all classics) is one factor, as is the very best set of songs that bassist/singer John Doe and vocalist Exene Cervenka composed, all featuring their distinctive vocal harmony blend.
A few of these songs had been in their setlist since their formation in the late ’70s and in fact, “Adult Books” was the A-side of their first single (their only release on the short-lived but influential Dangerhouse Records) before it was re-recorded for this LP several years later. Often cited as their most “punk” album, most of the songs here contain the brevity though not the sound of hardcore, also never quite reaching its speed except perhaps on the Elvis Presley-referencing “Back 2 the Base” or “I’m Coming Over,” with roots going back years earlier to a poem that Exene wrote before one of their earliest rehearsals. Just like with their other records, though, the influence of roots rock, country, blues, and R’n’B is present alongside guitarist Billy Zoom’s persistent rockabilly riff factory.
Lyrically, it is stunning with Doe and Cervenka expertly documenting their young, just-married, bohemian life in Venice Beach on songs like “In This House that I Call Home” and “When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch,” while “White Girl” (released as a single a year earlier with a different mix) is allegedly about the late Lorna Doom of The Germs. The album’s two greatest songs, however, are “It’s Who You Know” and “Some Other Time,” another great cheating song that also hints at or references violence. On Wild Gift, everyone’s nerves are on a knife’s edge, but everyone not only comes out unscathed, but exhilarated by this sweaty, life-affirming, beautiful music. At times, it sounds like one great exhale. The fun wouldn’t last long, however, as X would explore darker territory on the following year’s Under the Big Black Sun. Yet on Wild Gift, they peaked as a sweat-drenched, punk rock band.