Throughout his career, Kid Congo Powers has always maintained balance, however precarious his surroundings.

Even before picking up an instrument in the late-'70s heyday of L.A. punk, Powers had his sights fixed on making music. "I wanted to play rock, and have fun and party," he begins. "I also wanted to be able to say something, and make people think and feel."

Hence his new album's title. "Philosophy and Underwear," he says. "That says it all." Accompanied by the Pink Monkey Birds, Powers dishes out a mélange of high art and lurid sleaze. Garage-rock guitars bump and grind with organ and electronics, and bitch-slap handclaps punctuate Powers's loopy talk-singing, which he delivers with a wink and a leer.

One of rock's most storied sidemen, Powers grew up on the stages of seedy clubs and lavish theaters. His resumé includes membership in the Gun Club, the Cramps, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, collaborations with electro-brat Khan and postpunk cabaret diva Little Annie, and his gradual emergence as a songwriter and frontman with Congo Norvell and the Knoxville Girls.

Yet Powers easily identifies the rich vein of continuity that runs through his disparate engagements: "In all those people, there was a strong sense of otherness. They were all offbeat, untraditional, and very sure of their vision."

And they recognized his kindred spirit; even in the crazy quilt of early punk, a queer, rock-obsessed Mexican-American stuck out. "That's one of the reasons why [Gun Club founder] Jeffery Lee Pierce picked me out of the crowd and said, 'You should be in a band.' It was more about an aesthetic and a feeling than learning how to play music."

Of course, Powers has mastered the latter over the long haul, too, and sets with Pink Monkey Birds address his past as well as present. "I throw in some classics and surprises. Fans of any of my previous incarnations will like it all," he concludes. "At least, they better."