Hallelujah! I’m A Bum (Slimstyle)
by Scott Deckman
Billed as a double album and produced by “metal guru” Sanford Parker, Hallelujah! I’m A Bum is a 17-song concept record by Local H about the sad state of affairs the U.S. finds itself in today, with an emphasis on the point of view of the worst-off among us, even going so far as to record what sounds like a homeless man’s lament on what I take to be the Blue Line on Chicago’s ‘L’ in what appears to be wintertime. Whether that conversation is authentic or not – it sure sounds like it – the inference is understood. Times are rough, and Scott Lucas is telling the tale the way he sees it.
Like many, Lucas takes aim at easy targets like Sarah Palin and others of her ilk, somehow thinking “Hope and Change” really meant something more than a campaign slogan for the current president. And for someone who has described his band as “blue collar,” Lucas aims vitriol at the wrong people. Take “Paddy Considine,” an angry rocker about a paranoid white guy who’s immersed in conspiracy theory. But the reality is we live in an age where conspiracy itself makes more sense than what we’re being told, so it’s sad to see Lucas invested in the left/right paradigm; I’d think he’d be smart enough to know the elites are supporting both sides to our detriment: The same banking shysters are in control and will be until revolution takes place. Though Lucas does mention those same bankers at one point (he also lambasts the “Ruling Kind”), thinking they actually favor one side over the other (than their own) is pretty naïve, if he indeed believes that.
By the end of the record (where he revisits the first song), he seems sadly resigned, but, if I’m reading him right, it’s resignation buoyed with the slight hope that society will somehow turn around, that history is a cycle repeating both the good and bad, that maybe the next savior touting “Yes We Can” will actually mean it. One thing he knows for sure though: Salvation won’t come from those dastardly neoconservatives who are all trying to “Limit Your Change.”
Well, at least he’s got it half right.
Whatever his politics, you have to give Lucas credit for ambition: Nearly all his albums take on the conceptual. He likes his rock’n’roll and story arc equally.
“Cold Manor” is a heartfelt, mid-tempo rocker that works well amid Brian St. Clair’s drum bashing; follow-up “Night Flight To Paris,” while lacking some of the authenticity of his previous forays into muscle, is nonetheless a hammering, monochromatic rocker that grows on you.
But that lack leads to another problem I have with Hallelujah! I’m A Bum. Lucas is trying to be fresh, but comes off at times as reaching, or maybe in a direction that doesn’t particularly suit him. Speaking of which, on “Look Who’s Walking On Four Legs Again” (the chorus’ punch line was appropriated for the album’s title), Lucas follows other rockers into the country realm: Nice idea, but not him either.
“Blue Line” tells of the struggle between poverty, apathy, and civic duty amid a steady beat, and it shows off St. Clair’s stomp and cymbal crashes. St. Clair’s thunder helps drive the crunchy-tempoed “They Saved Reagan’s Brain,” as well as the annoyingly catchy “Feed A Fever,” on which he even adds some cowbell. If you haven’t guessed, St. Clair is put to good use on the record. The ballad-cum-power ballad “Say The Word” features Edge-like atmospherics until Lucas busts out the jams, where the sound is filtered through a Here Comes the Zoo lens. “Say The Word” is quite affecting, and shows he’s at his best when personalizing the political into something universal. Here, he’s had enough and is ready to cut bait, take off, and leave the heavy lifting to others.
Maybe the most distressing thing about Hallelujah! I’m A Bum is the lack of catchy melodies. It’s not that there aren’t any – some of these songs are spot-on – but there’s not enough of them on an album so big. Lucas is a master at crafting heavy pop songs, somewhere between power pop and metal. I mean, what’s catchier than “Rock and Roll Professionals” off Here Comes the Zoo? But it’s still heavy as hell, or at least purgatory. This record doesn’t combine the sugar and steel as well as earlier ones.
“Sad History” is a moving lament, and in the beginning sticks close to “Payback Is A Mother” from their 2008 ’99-’00 Demos collection. I’ll forgive the “Jeremy” acoustic likeness as well because it’s a good song, a contender for best in show (I guess Lucas was serious about the Eddie Vedder thing?). Closer “Waves Again” (a longer, different version of opener “Waves”) aims for the elegiac, but it doesn’t hit like other Local H closers, such as “What Would You Have Me Do?” off Here Comes the Zoo, “Lucky Time” from Pack Up the Cats, or “Halcyon Days (Where Were You Then)” from Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?; the latter two of which are among Lucas’ best compositions. In the right mood, the song works well, but it’s just not the moon shot he was trying for.
This is a sprawling work that doesn’t succeed on the level it was intended, but it’s a good look into the mind of Lucas and those who think like him at a time of economic and cultural turmoil. But never mind sweeping political broadsides, as a fan at least, I’m waiting for him to put it together again like Pack Up the Cats, Here Comes the Zoo, or As Good as Dead; Lucas does the personal extremely well when inspired. Yes, he’s a different man now, a bit older with different concerns, but even his later, less-than-stellar records (including this one) contain gems that show he can likely whip out another great full-length. After all, he still seems to be trying to write the Great American Record. That has to be worth something. That whale is still out there.