The next MC5 album – and now the band’s final foray in the wake of founding guitarist Wayne Kramer's passing – is nearly complete, with a hoped-for release later this year.
Kramer announced Heavy Lifting, the first MC5 album since High Time in 1971, during March of 2022, shortly before he took another incarnation of the famed Detroit proto-punk band on the road. The new album's title track made the setlist, which otherwise comprised of songs from the band's three original albums.
"Some bands take two years between albums. Some bands take five years between albums. We take 50," Kramer quipped at the time. But he said the album was "serious business," inspired by political polarisation in the United States and around the world, and particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This was the time to reignite the MC5 to carry the necessary message for today," he explained. "We are in such a dangerous time for our country that I'm gonna have to pull out all the stops and use the most powerful tools that I have at my disposal, which are my guitar and the songs and the music."
Contributors include Tom Morello, Guns N' Roses' Slash, Vernon Reid of Living Colour, William DuVall of Alice in Chains, Don Was, Vicki Randle and others. Original MC5 drummer Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson, now the only founding member still alive, was coaxed out of retirement to play on two songs, while Kramer wrote with Brad Brooks, the most recent MC5 singer, Morello, Alejandro Escovedo, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against, Kesha and others.
"It's very heavy," Ezrin reports. "It has a kind of sense of revolutionary message but also a good sense of humour. There's a little bit of heavy metal. There's quite a bit of funk. But it is a heavy record, and it's a guitar record left, right and centre, just a wall of guitars most of the time, and mostly driven by Wayne and his ethos. It's a snapshot of a guitar man at the height of his powers"
While final details are still being worked out, Ezrin adds that In the wake of Kramer's death – at age 75 on Feb. 2, shortly after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – "we all feel a responsibility to make sure that his work is heard and he is celebrated. We poured our hearts into the project."
Kramer, who's survived by his wife Margaret Saadi Kramer and their son Francis, co-founded the MC5 during the mid-60s and oversaw reunion configurations such as DKT/MC5 and MC50. He also released a series of solo albums and penned a best-selling memoir, The Hard Stuff, in 2018, along with scores for movies and television shows. In 2009 he and his wife started Jail Guitar Doors USA, following Billy Bragg's initiative in the U.K. to bring music and songwriting into prisons as a forum for rehabilitation.
Bob Ezrin published a tribute to Kramer yesterday.