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First album is better late than never for Prime Movers

The writer Thomas Wolfe wasn't entirely correct. Sometimes, you can go home again -- or, at least, return to the recording studio to produce the debut album you never got around to making the first time around. In the case of Boston's garage-soul rockers the Prime Movers, it only took these four onetime high school buddies 25 years to record and release "Back in Line," their first full-length CD in a musical career that dates back to the Reagan presidency. But what's a quarter-century between friends?

"It's been a long, slow boil," says Movers singer Cam Ackland, 45, whose band celebrates the CD's release tomorrow night at the Middle East Upstairs. "Ironically, all these years later, these guys have become much more adept at playing. It's leaner and it's meaner, and it feels better." Lean and mean have always been two of the Movers' best qualities, although one doesn't usually associate slow boils with a band that made its mark exploding from the stage in a loud, fast flurry of hooks, harmonies, and blinding white denim.

"They were one of those bands that really got me wanting to be a musician," says Jack Younger, who recorded and mixed most of "Back in Line" at his Basement 247 studio in Allston. "I used to go see them when I was 15. They weren't great players back then, but they had incredible energy coming off the stage. Now they're great players."

It's hard to believe, upon checking out the bracing, taut tracks on the new disc or catching the Movers' blistering recent shows around town, that the band hasn't been here all along. But after its more-or-less official run (1981-87) ended, the Movers broke up for most of the '90s, with each member pursuing a succession of other band projects. (A reunion around 1995, without drummer Dennis McCarthy, who had moved to the West Coast, was short-lived.)

It was a chance reunion at the Middle East in 2003 that got the gang -- three of whom are from Newton (McCarthy is from Malden) -- thinking about unfinished business. They agreed their backlog of original songs had never been properly recorded. Aside from an occasional split-single or random compilation track, the Movers say they were never able to completely capture the unbound energy or raw charisma of the live sound that made them a Boston favorite in their heyday.

"We actually did record a full length album [around 1986] with Sean Slade at Fort Apache studios," recalls guitarist Dick Tate, 42. "But by then, the band had been so beaten down by circumstances that it was too little too late. . . . The shame of it was, it was some of the best-sounding stuff we had recorded."

Then there were the lawsuits. Another California band named the Prime Movers -- there have been a few over the years -- successfully sued the Boston outfit, preventing it from touring Europe or releasing music using that moniker. For a band that started out, as Tate says, as a means "to avoid real employment and to avoid real life," things got real serious realfast.

Which is precisely why getting back together seemed like a good idea to bassist Jeff Sugarman: With the other Prime Movers having long since broken up, plugging into the old memories and the hope of making new ones finally felt right again. "It was much more for the pure enjoyment of playing than the pressure that we felt when we were younger," says Sugarman, 43. When you start out, he says, "you want to get signed, you want to get on a major label, you want to put out a record. That was our biggest motivation, and it never happened."

"We were young and dumb, and I think our reach exceeded our grasp," says Ackland of the band's early ambitions amid the wave of terrific Boston garage-pop contemporaries like the Neighborhoods, Dogmatics, and Del Fuegos. "We had our ups and downs, and a healthy break in the middle probably helped. We spent a lot of time cheek to jowl together, stuck in vans together, and joined at the hip. It's like going to war together, or being on a nuclear submarine."

On "Back in Line," the Prime Movers sound closer than ever before. The slew of jubilant rave-ups -- all but the title track dating to their first incarnation -- is testimony that the old chemistry hasn't deserted them. This coming fall, the band will go on its first European tour. And later this year, the Movers plan to head back into the studio to record new material with Younger at the helm.

"You never get over your first love, and it's the same thing with your first band," Tate says. "If you're lucky enough to get to revisit it under the best circumstances, that's probably the best gift that any musician could ever have."

As Ackland says, "We got another chance, which a lot of people don't get. And we made good on it."