Sunday, 31 March 2019

Hellbilly Deluxe - Rob Zombie

Provenance: This one was definitely bought for me by my parents, seeing as I would've been too spooked to have taken it off the shelves myself! Actually, it was a Christmas present.

Why Rob Zombie? Probably a combination of the cool White Zombie animation in Beavis and Butthead Do America and the fact that The Matrix (which featured a remix of 'Dragula' on the soundtrack) was literally the coolest film in the world when you're a boy in your early teens. I managed to download that Matrix remix via Napster, which probably took about four or five hours to do.

Before we get on to Hellbilly Deluxe, a word about The Matrix. I sure as shit didn't really understand it when I first encountered it back in 1999, but I thought those leather dusters looked sweet, an opinion that has since been validated in popular media. I recall that the film inspired a slew of doctoral theses, as it certainly tackled some rather chewy themes, but - good grief - it's dated badly. Looking back, it feels like Keanu Reeves got called up for any old cyberpunk caper. At one stage a character gets handed a MiniDisc. The kicker? A Joe Pantoliano starring role in a major motion picture (though I see he's on the slate for the next instalment of the Bad Boys franchise, which seems entirely apt). Anyway, long story short, a film that explored all kinds of stuff like postmodernism and nihilism became the lynchpin for a loose confederacy of women-hating internet racists whose emblem is a sad frog.

Review: Before getting into the meat of the review, may we please take a moment to admire this tweet?


I could genuinely stop now, as I don't think anybody will ever quite be as accurate and pithy as @MetalShayne was (he also posted a very good digest of Bruce Springsteen, sadly overlooked by most of Twitter). The Rob Zombie playbook for Hellbilly Deluxe is pretty much all there - pounding industro-metal, lyrics like a Tristan Tzara cut-up of Amicus and Universal monster movie scripts and his trademark elongated 'welllll' used almost like punctuation. The only aspect missing from the @MetalShayne pastiche are the sound clips ripped from B-movies that either introduce or feature within many of the tracks. Incidentally, these are fun when deployed sparingly, but Zomb slathers them on somewhat.

Sounds like a load of old pony, right? Well, that depends. Does the notion of Rammstein being produced by Quentin Tarantino appeal to you? Exactly, no, that also sounds terrible - so it's a pleasant surprise to plug this bad boy into my stereo and let it rip.

Firstly, despite my avowed preference for pre-1990s recording techniques, Hellbilly Deluxe is a big, chunky, scuzzy beast of a record. Production-wise, it actually sounds a little like Prodigy's Fat of the Land, albeit somewhat more maximalist. They're like two sides of the same coin - Fat of the Land was dance music acceptable to the heavy metal crowd, whilst Hellbilly Deluxe just switched that formula around. The Hot Rod Herman remix of 'Dragula' in The Matrix is a perfect illustration of how, with just a few bells and whistles, a Rob Zombie track could become a rocket-fuelled clubland shack-shaker.

Aside from the creeping tedium of hearing yet another track prefaced with a fuzzy movie snippet, I have only one real bugbear with Hellbilly Deluxe, which is that it becomes a little samey quite quickly. Zombie's distorted, growled vocals are appealing, and instantly recognisable, but tracks have to be built around his rather distinct delivery. Nonetheless, there are some real gems here, not least of all the mind-scrambling techno-grind of 'Living Dead Girl' and the pumping, vein-bursting intensity of 'What Lurks on Channel X?' Hellbilly Deluxe contains all the schlock and grue one would expect from a Vincent Price or Boris Karloff feature, conjured up into a wall of guitar, buzzing synthesisers and pounding electro beats.

Even at a rather lean 38 minutes the creepozoid interludes between tracks feel skipworthy, but I'd certainly whack Hellbilly Deluxe on shuffle down the gym, or perhaps if I just felt like scaring the kids living next door. Overall, the journey is one that is fun, loud, antisocial and a little bit daft - all things a good metal album should be.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Best Air Guitar Album In The World...Ever! - Various Artists

Provenance: This was a Christmas present from back in 2001. One might say it personifies the very essence of the phrase 'stocking filler'. Like the football blooper VHS / DVD, though it has no overt relationship to the festive season there is virtually zero chance you'd buy this at any time other than the three weeks leading up to Christmas.

Review: Whilst I'm admittedly a bit snobbish about 'best of' collections, I'm quite partial to a compilation, especially if there's precious little discernible link between any of the tracks. Having said that, the blue ribband examples - I'm talking the original Nuggets compilation, or the wonderful Close to the Noise Floor, chronicling the early days of the British electronica scene - are propped up by some kind of conceptual scaffolding.

Such is the case of the hubristically titled Best Air Guitar Album in the World...Ever!, created under the aegis of Queen axe-mangler Dr Brian May. The gag here, I guess, is that every cut on this double dose of rawk is going to get you Tom Cruising it on the sofa with your imaginary gitbox. Observe:



(Incidentally, the second instalment of the franchise, which, given the title of the first album is implicitly inferior, featured beloved amateur astronomer / full-time bigot Sir Patrick Moore in its TV advertising campaign.)

You know what? It's pretty damn good! But it's probably in spite of, rather than due to, its stated remit.

I like the way it starts, because it disc one does something a bit weird; it launches you into the coda of Queen's 'We Will Rock You', the only bit with a guitar part worth talking about. Essentially, the first slice of action is one-fifth of a track from 1977, which then segues into 'Tie Your Mother Down', one of the few genuine headbangers from the Queen oeuvre, albeit from a completely different album. Eh? Is this going to be some kind of strange high-concept mishmash like Frank Zappa's Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar, which consisted entirely of his guitar solos? Sadly not.

Instead, we are treated to some of the hoary old classic rock dinosaurs one expects on such a project. Except that...w-w-what's this? I'm enjoying them?! To quote marble-mouthed former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, "you betcha!" For example, I could quite happily never listen to Deep Purple's Machine Head ever again, nor indeed endure yet enough saloon bar bore recount how 'Smoke On The Water' was inspired by a fire at a Frank Zappa show, but shorn of its leaden context it sounds pretty cool. I don't have to slog through seven-odd minutes of 'Lazy', because on this doozy I get the short, sharp gut-punch of Blur's 'Song 2'. It's fun, a musical pick 'n' mix that cocks a snook at the rules. Follow up Def Leppard with the Troggs? Sure! Amputate Duane Allman's gorgeous slide guitar solo from the end of 'Layla'? Why not!

Like a pick 'n' mix, there's also the odd crumb of shit in there (Black Jacks, in case you're interested; foul little rectangles of liqourice hatred that look like a chainsmoker's lung). Whoever thought that Paul McCartney's version of 'All Shook Up' merited inclusion needs a few words in the mirror, and the suspicion of log-rolling creeps in when Robbie Williams' 'Let Me Entertain You' makes an appearance (NB: did Williams ever make good on that offer?). Amidst the Planet Rock staples there's a smattering of left-field choices that do work, though; both Weezer's 'Hash Pipe' and Wheatus' 'Teenage Dirtbag' fit the vibe but give the proceedings a sheen of modernity. There's even space for the true shred believer to have their moment in the sun, with Joe Satriani's 'Surfing With the Alien' bringing about a startling change of pace. That no room could be found for Vinnie Moore, Rusty Cooley or Michael Angelo Batio was noted by this listener.

That the platters from Rainbow, Dire Straits, Free and Thin Lizzy are exactly what you expect them to be (need I even list them?) comes as little surprise, but there is one very bizarre inclusion; the Jeff Beck / Terry Bozzio / Tony Hymas instrumental 'Where Were You'. There is simply no place on this riff factory of an album for this celestial, floating dream of a soundscape. It sounds ephemeral and ghostly at the best of times, but here it righteously gets the stuffing knocked out of it by Joe Walsh's sturdy 'Rocky Mountain Way'. 'Where Were You' is the beautiful, frail goth child forced to play in nets during games lesson, flapping in futility as 'Monkey Wrench', 'Paranoid' and 'Free Bird' blooter volleys past it from six yards out.

One last thing: as much as I find the space-race twang of the Shadows appealing I would be hard-pressed to say they were air-guitar worthy. Has anyone ever been driven into a frenzy by Hank Marvin? I very much doubt it.

How wrong am I? This wrong, apparently:



In conclusion, The Best Air Guitar Album in the World...Ever! is not - and does not aspire to be - high art, and nor does it do much to distinguish itself from the slew of rawk compilations that infested the shelves of music stores throughout the early days of this millenium. It does scratch an itch, though. Put simply, listening to lots of loud, dumb rock can be a hell of a lot of fun. Think of this as the lamb doner with extra chili sauce one enjoys as a guilty pleasure after a gargle down the local, just before you top off the night by kicking the shit out of 'Where Were You' in a supermarket car park.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Hot Shots: #12 - Ever So Lonely - Monsoon

I found this cracker when I was reading about the Prodigy's Fat of the Land (RIP Keith Flint), as one of the vocal tracks on that album was based around a Sheila Chandra piece. I had no clue who she was, and the first thing I discovered was that due to a medical condition she is no longer able to sing.

The second thing I found out was that she was in Grange Hill, and the third thing was that she fronted a band called Monsoon, who played a fairly early Anglo-Indian fusion pop. Upon watching the video I vaguely recall hearing this song before now - but I certainly hadn't recognised the amazing voice that Chandra possessed. In any case, this is a catchy, ear-wormy crackerjack of a tune.

It's a crap video though, isn't it? Probably not the band's fault, as it's clearly a TV performance. Light digging seems to suggest it was a German pop show called Bananas, though that bloke dragging himself across the sand right at the end does look a little like Russ Abbot, doesn't it?

Sunday, 3 March 2019

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida - Iron Butterfly

Provenance: I bought this because it has 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' on it.

Review: Well, at least In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida has 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' on it.

Alright, it's not terrible. Most of IAGDV is listenable enough. Hell, I even saw a Butterfly lineup that featured classic-era members Ron Bushy and Lee Dorman play at Arrow Rock Festival, and I enjoyed it. I was especially taken by a track called 'Easy Rider', which isn't on this album.

What IAGDV does serve up is a trip through the various flavours of psychedelia popular in the late 1960s. You've got the peppermint 'n' patchouli of the insipid 'Flowers And Beads', coming on like a heavier, less artful Zombies throwaway. There's the slightly more ominous, bad trip psych of 'My Mirage' and 'Are You Happy' - these are fairly engaging, sounding a bit like The Nice or Atomic Rooster. Comparisons with Atomic Rooster are especially apposite as the member who takes the majority of lead vocals, Doug Ingle, has a touch of John Du Cann about his vocal delivery, brimming with portent yet slightly haunted.

But, just like the reviews on this blog, it's a touch ham-fisted. Perhaps its just a symptom of heavy psychedelia of a certain vintage that I'm not used to, but the sudden transitions into the 'wig out' portion of each track is irksome. 'Are You Happy', which has some of the strongest musical ideas on the whole album, is, alas, also the worst scene of the crime.

It should also be said that IAGDV has also dated quite badly. I was going to say 'inevitably', but so much pop music of that era still stands up to this day - Motown, Stax (hell, a lot of soul and R&B of the time), garage rock, even a fair bit of the blues rock laid down at the time (such as Taj Mahal's debut, or the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet) all sound fresh to me. Sadly, IAGDV is a museum piece, trapped in amber, deemed too hoary a dinosaur for Jurassic Park. To twenty-first century ears (even those as accustomed as mine are to listening to older stuff) the sentiments are twee to the point of cloying and the music lacks any kind of edge. But surely - surely - IAGDV is rescued by 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', no?

Ah, a little. Rescued-ish, perhaps.

Yes, that riff is immortal. It's incredibly satisfying to crank up the amp, slam your guitar through a fuzz box and wail on that bad boy for a good five minutes. It's also been a mainstay in popular culture; you have probably encountered it, whether in The Simpsons, on a Nas album (he's used it twice so far by my reckoning) or in my favourite example, the climactic scene to Michael Mann's superb film Manhunter. That riff is totally one of the most metal things from the 1960s.

Yet 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' is also seventeen minutes long. To put that into perspective, the studio album version of Lynyrd Skynyrd's 'Free Bird' is only nine minutes. I've argued before that time is a quality of music that can be stretched or constricted for effect, just like any other, but it's a dicey one to fuck with. Much can be excused by playing loud 'n' fast, but to do the opposite - slow, soporific, measured - takes no little skill. Black Sabbath can do it. Electric Wizard can do it. Sunn ())))) can do it. Iron Butterfly can't do it.

The lion's share of the title track should be that devilish minor-key riff and Doug Ingle's slurring, zonked-out vocal. In reality, it's dedicated to Ingle's meandering organ (variously sounding, at points, like a drunk version of 'Tidings of Comfort and Joy' or the Tetris theme music on quaaludes) and a drum solo. Not a very good drum solo either (if, indeed, such a thing exists). I can't find the piece right now, but I'm sure I read about Led Zeppelin laughing at Ron Bushy's interminable solo at the heart of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida', and that's a band who weren't averse to self-indulgent percussion centrepieces themselves. I guess - and I'm really guessing here - that if you've taken a few bong rips, or you're staring into the depths of your lava lamp after a tab, all of 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' could conceivably sound cool. I am sitting in my front room with nothing stronger than Dr Pepper (diet, I should add) to aid me. It just sounds boring.

In summary, IAGDV isn't bad, but it isn't good either. It entirely bespeaks of a very short time in popular music that has retained its traction within the wider consciousness for a number of reasons - the enduring quality of the music not necessarily one of them. On the other hand - DUM DUM, DA-DA-DA-DUM - DA DA DAA!!!!