Local H – The Island Years – Review

localh200Local H

Local H: The Island Years (Universal)
by Scott Deckman

Local H is a great band. There, I said it. (And yeah, yeah, Lollipop‘s Indie/Alternative section is starting to resemble the Scott Lucas Review these days. Can it.) But as the result of one overplayed song in the mid-to-late alt rock era – “Bound for the Floor” – some of the more unenlightened don’t seem to get it, tagging the band as a one-hit wonder. Talking to Local H chieftain Scott Lucas one time, he told me something to the effect that he was glad people liked the song in question because it opened up their fan base a bit. True, and it’s great to sell records, because then you get to make more of them and have an actual career, as opposed to, I don’t know, making sandwiches for a living or something (“Mayonnaise and Malaise”).

It’s a valid point, but I can’t help feeling that many hipsters and critics never gave them a fair shot beyond that played-out song, and for a band that has put together as impressive a catalogue of American hard rock as any since the release of their first album in 1995, that’s a shame. I can honestly say they’ve made three great records (two of which are represented on this compilation. And yeah, they’re one of my favorite bands and yeah, I’m biased). And while some may argue that their recent records are inconsistent, they’ve still been able to produce some spectacular moments on occasion.

Whether in need of money or to stay relevant, Lucas has been putting out a lot of music lately, both under the H moniker and with his Married Men. Now, as part of Universal Music’s ICON series, he’s giving us Local H: The Island Years, a collection of the band’s singles from that time period (plus a few other songs), back when making it big – not just a living – was surely on his brain. It was also back when he had original drummer Joe Daniels behind the kit.

If he had made it into a higher tax bracket, jumping from label to label and touring very frequently could’ve been replaced with studio indulgence and making records for the sake of making records. It didn’t work out that way, but it would’ve been hard from him to improve on his recorded output no matter how long he had to work his magic (I say him because Lucas is everything besides the drummer for Local H). But he’s an artist who may’ve never cared about the surfeit of perks that come with success, and his work on Local H: The Island Years, collected from the band’s first three records: Ham Fisted (1995), As Good as Dead (1996) and Pack Up the Cats (1998), bears this out. Not that he wouldn’t want to be fabulously rich – who would turn that down? But the music he’s consistently produced shows he was in this for the right reasons.

Local H: The Island Years shades a little heavily toward As Good as Dead, which is only natural, as it was by far the band’s biggest seller and contained “Bound for the Floor,” their only bona fide smash which charted an impressive number 5 on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart in December 1996. As Good as Dead was where the band came into its own, striking a balance between post-grunge and hard rock, even throwing in some mosh pit-worthy stuff as well, and here’s to Lucas for including “Back in the Day” on Local H: The Island Years, an updated (for the time) take on hardcore and its pedagogical adherents. It’s one of his best songs, period, and it simply rocks. “Eddie Vedder,” “High-Fiving MF” (an attack on another group of macho men), “Fritz’s Corner” and, of course, “Bound for the Floor,” round out that record’s contributions.

Their best album, Pack Up the Cats – who even SPIN liked – gets three (“All the Kids Are Right,” “All-Right (Oh, Yeah)” and “Cool Magnet”), while first record Ham Fisted gets just two, or, depending on how you see things, one (along with “Cynic,” the collection contains an unreleased radio-edited version of “Mayonnaise and Malaise”). Lucas – or Universal Music Group – saw fit to add a couple other numbers as well: an unreleased version of “Tag Along” and Guided By Voices cover “Smothered in Hugs.” The former – at least the first half of the song – sounds as if it was cribbed from one of his Scott Lucas & the Married Men offerings (it was actually taken from the Pack Up the Cats sessions), while the latter, though a cover (which originally appeared on the Sling Blade soundtrack), sounds like classic Local H: Melodic parts, just-heavy-enough, and lyrics sung in earnest.

For the uninitiated, listening to this collection will likely make them wonder: How can music this solid be overlooked by the masses, many critics and even so-called hipsters who are supposed to know better? Again, four words: “Bound for the Floor.” Not even one of As Good as Dead‘s better songs, that single has been an unfair millstone around the band’s neck for nearly a decade and a half. They have so much more to offer than that one number.

While this is a competent representation of the Island Records years and a mostly-singles affair, undoubtedly, some fans will still be a little disappointed by some of the gems missing. Without much of a struggle, I can list more than a half-dozen candidates, the most egregious being off Pack Up the Cats. Fans out there, can you imagine making a Local H greatest hits compilation, let alone during the Island years, without including “Hit the Skids or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rock?,” or how about “Lucky Time” or “Deep Cut?”

But I’m being picky. Longtime fans can (and will) argue until the cows come home about their favorite songs from their favorite bands. And that’s good, that’s part of the fun of being a fan: Writing long, discursive rants about the band in question. As long as this isn’t a goodbye, but a cash-grabbing friendly reminder (and yeah, that’s okay once in awhile) of what the band is and capable of, I’m more than okay with Local H: The Island Years. Scott Lucas and current drummer Brian St. Clair, here’s to many more years of making good – and great – music.