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In Small Doses

The Hives
Tyrannosaurus Hives (Interscope)

I’m going to attempt to get through the next 550-or-so words without mentioning the “g” word. Wish me luck.

Every musical movement has a turning point at which the inevitable backlash kicks in. People get sick of hearing about
fashionable-trend-of-the-moment after a while, you know? Remember, now, that everyone turned up their noses at anything remotely resembling the old “g” word (grunge, for those born post-Reagan) right around 1994? Oh wait, that didn’t happen—that would leave no explanation for Candlebox. And just how many records did Puddle of Mudd sell last year?

Three years into a so-called garage-rock (damn!) renaissance, we’re beginning to see signs of the lag. As any derivative or retro-glancing movement goes, it’s getting to the point where we’ve exhausted all the interesting references and taken the late-’70s-lower-East-side worship thing to it’s logical end—witness the decidedly new-wavey lean of bands like Interpol and the Rapture. The only clear superstars (if that term is even accurate) to come out of the first wave were the Strokes, who basically rode their own wave to second-album success, and the White Stripes, who took the “get really good” approach to career maintenance.

The Hives sold a bunch of records, but the matching black-and-white suits, and singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist’s Jagger-gone-mad performance style, tagged them as a potential one-trick pony when they were first introduced to the masses (via “Hate to Say I Told You So,” from 2001’s Veni Vidi Vicious). The near-total absence of a follow-up single didn’t help matters; neither did a three-year gap between releases. So Tyrannosaurus Hives, the band’s third full-length, has some big shoes to fill—to beat the backlash, the Swedes would have to deliver something truly inspired or revolutionary. It’s neither, but it’s potent enough to be a real blast for first-timers.

Lyrically, it’s generally nonsensical sci-fi paranoia (clones, robots, a “See Through Head,” and a mysterious “they” who seem to want to implant a dead office worker inside of Almqvist make up the supporting cast) or fist-in-the-air, “I’m the shit” braggadocio (“Diabolic Scheme” finds Almqvist boasting “from greatness to greatness is where I span” in saliva-spewing preacher mode, like a scrawny, white Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). The truly unshakeable hooks come where you’d least expect them—“A Little More for Little You” is the Hives version of a ’50s hop with a vocal line lifted from Del Shannon; later, they rein in the hysteria for the surf-Devo blast of “Love in Plaster.”

Obviously, this kind of spastic puberty-punk doesn’t work in large doses. That’s why tracks like “Abra Cadaver” and “Dead Quote Olympics” stand up—they come on strong, plant their freak flags, and get the fuck out in under two minutes. On the other hand, the lead single, “Walk Idiot Walk”— at three-and-a-half minutes, Tyrannosaurus’ longest track by half—probably could have been wrapped up a little quicker, but then we wouldn’t have as much time with the oddball Wheel-of-Fortune-meets-Scrabble video that accompanies it. (Although I’m not usually a big fan of the Enhanced-CD format, I would have awarded bonus points if the video had been tacked onto the disc.)

Unfortunately, that’s the ultimate problem with Tyrannosaurus Hives. It’ll keep you occupied for the duration—it’s a fine record for a short drive (the album clocks in at just over 30 minutes), and probably great at parties—but it’s tough to grasp the urgency and irony if you’re not watching the video.

—John Brodeur

Judson Fountain
Completely In The Dark (Innova)

In 1969 my friend Chuck Bell
and I used his new reel-to-reel tape recorder to make a science-fiction audio drama we called Rancid Yellow Asteroid. The title was a play on a movie we’d seen called Angry Red Planet, and using an LP of electronic compositions by Morton Subotnick, we hatched a thin plot and commenced to work on it. Alas, after that initial afternoon’s efforts—totaling little more than five minutes—our enthusiasm waned and we returned to the more alluring prospects of our band, Happy Scab.

At roughly the same time, a much more dedicated young man by the name of Judson Fountain was creating his similarly seat-of-the-pants dramas of mystery and suspense with his sidekick Sandor Weisberger (who, in the guise of Announcer, endearingly referred to them as “drammers”). Between the two of them, and with the help of a couple others, they played all the parts in these audio dramas with such gripping titles as “Garbage Can From Thailand” and “Granny, Sing No More!” All are light horror melodramas, full of missed cues, overexuberant sound effects and occasionally mismatched soundtracks. Fountain himself “specialized” in old-lady voices, favoring overwrought cackles and long, drawn-out syllables for maximum scares. In the early ’70s these were self-released on a series of LPs with handmade covers in extremely limited quantities. This CD collects eight tales that were created with a singular vision, undistracted by supervisors, outside producers, or even copy editors. This sounds like the Golden Age of Radio filtered through an ambitious teenager’s loopy imagination and lo-fi engineering skills. It’s committed and impassioned, both virtues being a far cry more worthy than facile and correct.

There’s a school of thought that celebrates so-bad-it’s-good as a virtue in and of itself. I’d say a measure of how good something is can be based on whether one is entertained and engaged, never falling into boredom. It is not possible for Judson Fountain to bore me. Though this entertains at times in ways not necessarily intended, that is a natural by-product of many creative endeavors. Judson Fountain is good, period.

—David Greenberger

Great Day for Up/Solace
Blackmarket/Hammerhead (Underdogma)

I love the fact that bands still do split albums. This Underdogma Records release gets you three tunes each from New Jersey’s Solace and Albany’s Great Day for Up, all hammered out around March 2004 at Boston’s New Alliance Studios (which has produced some crushing stuff in the past: Converge, Scissorfight, Throttlerod and on and on).

It’s a little ironic that the original “Hammerhead,” recorded in 1971 by Brit-pop band Rare Bird, had absolutely no guitars, because Solace is nothing if not hemorrhaging from the bloody pit with the six-stringed halberds. I can’t help but mention that one of Rare Bird’s keyboardists (they had two) went on to play Vic Savage in This Is Spinal Tap. And you know, Samson had a song by the same title, as did Overkill and scores of other metal bands, but leave it to these guys to dig deep for this mighty gem. But anyway, Solace also chose Link Wray’s “Rumble” to blast into pieces, in addition to their own vicious little “Cement Stitches,” which sounds as if the band are clamoring for a return to their punk/hardcore roots. Well done, and heavier than a swift-moving cancer.

Great Day for Up opted for all original music, and man, they are bruisers. Arguably the area’s finest stoner rock remains in peak killing form, unhampered by sentiment and merciless to a fault. The opening riff to “More Than Enough” is as saturating and intense as the mysterious red hazes of Titan, and the lumbering juggernaught “Soul of a Motherfucker” spells D-O-O-M faster than you can say Orange Goblin with access to the Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant. I dig it. This disc retails for a measly seven bucks. What are you waiting for, a coupon? Why you, I’ll . . .

—Bill Ketzer

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