Sunday, May 3, 2009

Justin Is A Leg Man

HOT LEG – “Red Light Fever” CD ’09 (Barbecue Rock, Eng) – I didn’t like The Darkness’ first CD “Permission To Land” when I first heard it. I was mainlining High On Fire at that point and at first blush, Justin “Dave” Hawkins’ voice hit me as “Jesus Christ, whoever is strangling that fucking cat, please stop!” I wrote the band off completely, including a pretty hand-washing review on the older version of this site. I have to admit that it did give me pause (not paws, although my wife has called me a dog a couple times) when some friends who I really respected were saying good things about ‘em. But, I more or less filed it away and said what the hell, who cares.

Then, a couple months later, something odd happened. “117” came up in the lottery. Well…ok…that would have been “odd,” but that’s not what I mean. I was listening to 98 Rock (local corporate rock FM) and they played a track from “Permission….” My first impression was “Hey, who is this, that riff is pretty good!” Then Hawkins went into that falsetto and…I didn’t recoil. I sat back, listened and lo & behold, it struck me as pretty cool in a Mercury-esque kinda way. But then, it happened….the song ended and the DJ completely went off: “Can you believe some dickhead would actually request that?! That’s the only reason I played it! Screw you, buddy, call back when you know what rock really is! I’ll bet this band doesn’t even take themselves seriously!” And, in my own 40-some-year-old mature way, I thought “Here’s some DJ wank who thinks Linkin Park rocks, dude, and he’s going to dis a British band who have guitar solos. Um…er…they’re MY fucking band to hate, not some mainstream prick! Er…except I didn’t hate that, I kinda liked it.” Not long thereafter, I found a used copy of “Permission…” for like $ 3. On 2nd, 3rd and even 4th spins I found it to be, no, not an instant classic but still pretty decent. Some real potential here, I thought. It was with The Darkness’ 2nd album “One Way Ticket To Hell…And Back” that I embraced the band. I was impressed with their ability to run the gamut from simple Acca-Dacca-styled rockers to seemingly goofy send-ups to Queen-styled epics & all with a feel that was quintessentially English. To be honest, it’s still not a record I can listen to everyday but at times, nothing other than watching “The Holy Grail” and listening to “Queen II” simultaneously might hit the same spot.

So, the news that Justin Hawkins had split from The Darkness not long after the release of “One Way Ticket…” disappointed me. I already had high hopes for what would be their 3rd record and now it seemed these guys were a 1-and-maybe-a-half-shot meteor. The splintered faction of the band went on to release the debut Stone Gods album, an excellent collection of material with arms stretching as far as Metallica-styled aggro. Meanwhile, Hawkins was sidelined with mental health issues & when he came through that dark spot, he began telling the press about his new band HOT LEG. Was there a reason to take him seriously?

I now have “Red Light Fever” in my hands and it’s time to answer that question. In short, HOT LEG’s debut is silly. It’s silly-good. It’s fucking silly-great. Let’s face it, an album that opens with a track called “Chickens” is either going to go into quick interstellar overdrive or crash in a horrifying flame-out. What “Chickens” does is to start with a riff the likes of which Angus Young hasn’t written in 20 years. By the time Hawkins takes falsetto-flight in the chorus of “There’s nobody here but this chicken,” you’re in one of 2 places. You’ll either hate this with a purple passion, press “eject” and fling the disc against the wall or you’ll be dancing in the aisles. And if you don’t, you’ll be too busy building the whole damn barn in the backyard and inviting the neighborhood to one mother of a barn-dance to worry about the CD player. So tell your bud to put the sucker on “repeat,” buy a case of Guinness and read on!

“Red Light Fever” is just a non-stop bad-assed rock & roll record that won’t stop. From the born-again-bashing “I’ve Met Jesus” to the hilarious (you can guess why) “Cocktails” to the building balladic “Kissing In The Wind” (Axl my ass) this is the album Mr. Hawkins needed to make and by God, he’s done it in spades. He’s somehow taken the pomp of “One Way…,” stripped it down and merged it with a straight-ahead rock dynamic The Darkness introduced on “Permission To Land.” Here’s how:

First off, Justin’s new band mates are a cracking lot, at least! Pete Rinaldi’s lead guitar work is nothing short of blinding. Think if Brian May played on the first Kix album. On the bottom end, Samuel SJ Stokes and Darby Todd (bass & drums) hold down a stiff rhythm with ease. Secondly, in terms of his writing, Hawkins has not abandoned the lavish English pomp by any means. Rather, he’s bent and shaped it perfectly to fit the basic rawkin’ goin’ on. Check out the Sparks-y keyboard section at the end of “Chickens,” the brilliant FM rock of “Gay In The ‘80’s” or the pastoral intro to “Kissing In The Wind.” Best yet, however, is “Trojan Guitar,” a remarkable tour d force that wraps everything from barroom sleaze rock to Celtic bard-ship into a neat 5-minute bow.

Will “Red Light Fever” make HOT LEG a household name? Will we ever hear “Prima Donna” pumping out the open windows of a Nissan in the next lane, like we did with “I Believe In A Thing Called Love?” Hard to say, as the business side of this stuff is cruel and fickle. Either way, Justin Hawkins and crew have delivered an album that’s as defining a collection of great rock songs as that aforementioned Kix debut. Fucking spectacular. 10.0

HEAVEN AND HELL – “The Devil You Know” CD ’09 (Rhino, Eng) – I went to a Catholic high school. Ok, there’s really no punch line to that but it leads me to another round-about entrance to an album review and you all know how much I like them, so pull up a chair. The principal of the high school in question was named Father David. He was a 40-some year old guy who had dark hair in a sorta Johnny Cash way, wore black boots with his cassock and bore a stunning facial resemblance to Rare Earth’s Pete Rivera (a.k.a. Hoorelbeke). What I liked about this dude was that he was as real as shit. Not your typical priest who hid behind the altar or office, or worse yet (and, understand…the minority) who use their collar to take liberties with kids that are unspeakable, this cat was real. He was a real guy who would say “shit!” when he hit his hand with a hammer building a manger scene and yet when he said a prayer, you knew he was genuine & respectful as can be. And the bottom line? You didn’t cross him. You were a stand-up guy at school, played your cards right, he’d be the guy going the extra mile to write a college letter of recommendation for you. But you screwed around, you fucked up? Especially stupidly? He’d nail your ass to the wall. I remember one time in particular, a bunch of us had been given the task to clean up the auditorium. We pushed the broom around for 10 minutes and then, because he said he was going to run an errand across town, we decided playing football in the aisles after smoking a joint made more sense. Thing was, he had walked up the hall a few minutes then came back. Caught us red-handed and the next thing we knew we were in his office, sitting in a row, looking at our shoes while he tapped his boot heel on the hardwood floor and gave us a dressing down that would’ve made a Marine drill sergeant blush. The one thing I’ll remember that hurt the most was his statement, repeated twice in an understated & yet powerful voice, “You bring me bring me grief.” And, that, my friends, is what this new BLACK SABBATH album does.

Call them HEAVEN & HELL if you want, but let’s cut to the chase. This band is the Dio-fronted version of the band called BLACK SABBATH. The last studio record this line-up did before committing this atrocity to plastic was 1992’s “Dehumanizer.” In my opinion, “Dehumanizer” was a pale, flaccid attempt to recreate the decent records this same bunch did in ’80 and ’81 with “Heaven & Hell” and “Mob Rules.” If it helps you any to understand the depths that the band has sunken to this time, let me say this. “The Devil You Know” is a pale, flaccid attempt to recreate the half-assed album that was “Dehumanizer.” Say the names slowly to yourself: Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Vinnie Appice. The fact that those 4 people, with their lineage, their reputations, their undisputed talent could produce nothing more than this dull, thudding, and wholly boring piece of manure is a damning indictment of where they stand at this point. From stem to stern, there is nothing about this disc that is even bordering on memorable. It is recorded with a mid-range, bland and faceless production that lends an even more listless air to songs that are of virtually no impact on their own. The riffs are cut-and-paste, the lyrics are among the most inane and hackneyed of Dio’s career and there is truthfully nothing that makes one of these numbers stand out from any other. To say that “The Devil You Know” is horrible would probably be just as forgettable as it’s very contents. To me, it is a complete non-entity and that is far, far worse. It brings me grief…it brings me grief. 1.0

ASSEMBLE HEAD IN SUNBURST SOUND – “When Sweet Sleep Returned” CD ’09 (Tee Pee, US) – San Francisco has certainly produced it’s share of good music over the years and ASSEMBLE HEAD…is no exception. This latest release sees them really coming into their own and producing an album that’s a cool listen. And “album” is the key word here. While the disc is divided into tracks with individual titles like “Two Birds” and “Kolob Canyon,” the overall effect here is that of a day spent wandering through the wilderness. Sure there’s the heavy deep-space blues “Two Stage Rocket,” a bit like that side-trip into a dark cave where the furry thing you can’t identify slips past your leg. A good percentage however, “By The Rippling Green,” for instance, is a lazy & warm afternoon wandering through the fields of west coast psych folk, the mildest of ‘shrooms guiding your barefoot journey. Nice. 7.5


The RIpple Effect said...

very interesting on the Hot Leg. I've been excited/terrified to hear what they sound like. See, I too couldn't stand the Darkness, but Bass man Sam Stokes' earlier band, The Thieves, is one of our all-time Ripple favorites.

Now I'll go check it out.

raysrealm said...

Well, if you don't like The Darkness at all, you may not dig it. They grew on me. But this one, as opposed to even "One Way Ticket..." I can listen to constantly. It's stoopid! And great!

skallemats said...

At last, someone who has the guts to bury Heaven & hells new album where it belongs - Six feet under.
Right on, man!!

BTW, Hot leg rocks!

raysrealm said...

Another great review of the H&H is on the site. Mark says it all, people are afraid to say anything because they think they deserve some extra respect. To me, with their careers, reputations they have an obligation to either put everything into something or have the common sense to know it's time to stop. Otherwise, they end up like an athelete who hangs on too long.