Hey, Killer (G&P)
by Scott Deckman
Hey, Killer is the most consistent Local H record since 2002’s superb Here Comes the Zoo (which was also their last non-concept try) and the band’s best since at least 2004’s Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? Though it should be noted that Here Comes the Zoo sure as hell sounded thematic, and, surprise, surprise, so does Hey, Killer. On first listen, it doesn’t inspire, nor on the second, but it’s enough to bring you back for further hearings where it eventually reveals its charms. Much of this rocks, with lyrics both interesting and arcane.
Opener “The Last Picture Show In Zion” tells of going home and experiencing cultural and spiritual decay with a Jimmy Page-like isolated riff and overdramatic chorus. Whether it works as intended is not the question; the fact that the layered version of the riff pounds hard enough to bust your eardrums is the answer. “City of Knives” is classic Scott Lucas metallic pop riding a riff and caustic, paranoiac lyrics. “City of knives/I think you should be leaving/City of knives.” It’s like he finally found out what to do with that riff from Hallelujah! I’m a Bum’s “Night Flight To Paris.” “Freshly Fucked” is an odd-time-signatured tale of fiends-with-benefits that fits the current zeitgeist: Hey, this free love is working out tremendously. Maybe our parents and grandparents, especially, so quaint and clueless, were on to something? It’s one of the record’s highlights.
“Gig Bag Road” is the unforgiving denouement of two decades of a musician’s life, a Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Lodi” for our age, this one with staccato rhythms and big chords and an even bigger extended chorus, a point-by-point tale of the hazards of touring where the people “don’t even want your rock’n’roll,” let alone your soul. And the person driving that staccato rhythm is new drummer Ryan Harding, replacing Animal-style basher Brian St. Clair. He fits in pretty seamlessly here. “The Misanthrope” is all pounding drums, pointed chorus, big guitars, and bile.
“One of Us” brings back the acoustic and melody of some of the best parts of As Good as Dead and Pack Up the Cats. Lucas, who often shoots for transcendence with mixed results, should sit back and listen to “Leon And The Game Of Skin.” Here he takes the ordinary, a story of what sounds like a cheap hustler and the consequences of such a life, and makes it epic. He doesn’t do as good a job of this on “One of Us,” a decent-enough song with great potential that eventually graduates to something close to cliché.
Single of sorts “Mansplainer” is competent pop-rock and does get stuck in your brain, but it’s outshined by better album material. With Lucas’ everyman ken, you’d think a song titled “Age Group Champion” couldn’t miss, and it doesn’t. It’s a mid-tempo rocker and a tale of an early achiever who’s struggling now.
The theological underpinnings of “John The Baptist Blues” might be kind of interesting, and the chorus of “Jesus or Barabbas who would you choose?/Swinging like a Judas to the John, Baptist, Blues” is as catchy as it sounds here (and so are the tasteful piano snippets), but the extended prog-metal bridge/breakdown feels out of place, messing up a perfectly good rocker. It doesn’t sound like System of a Down, but that’s what it reminds me of, this stop-start staccato collage. Closer “I Am A Salt Mine” is an acoustic lullaby continuing the religious imagery, and extra points for the brown recluse reference and what sounds like pedal steel. Here Lucas is a salt mine, it’s what he chooses.
To be honest, Hey, Killer feels like Hallelujah! I’m a Bum trimmed down without the focus on leftist politics. But it’s more tuneful and does a better job with the heavier production values. The album is a platter of consistently good hard rock that takes from power pop, metal, classic rock, and even a little singer-songwriter fare, mixes it up and comes out all Lucas Puree. I guess you could just call this alt-rock, or alt-rock 2.0. Yes, it seems a little louder, cleaner, and a bit more compressed than much of his better work (everything is supposedly over-compressed these days), but the results are good. And his giving two shits, willing to try different production and musical styles while still incorporating that Lucas Puree is partly why he still has fans after 20-plus years of making rock’n’roll. No hobby rocker he. He’s in it for the long haul; gotta get that engine checked and tires changed for the next tour, and this time, let’s try and get as many motels with a hot tub as we can, even though I know we can’t afford it and won’t.
I mean, what’s he gonna do, get a real job?
But on the flipside – and there’s always a flipside with Lucas – it’s like he vacillates between pop craftsmanship, metallic pretensions, and making it – and making important statements, none of which gets him recognized for the artist he is. John Lennon took a crap on the toilet and it’s art. Jack White releases what I consider a dud in Blunderbuss and it rates highly all over. Scott Weiland forms another supergroup. The Black Keys sell out arenas. Another Kurt Cobain rarity is unearthed. Metallica and Lou Reed join forces. The latest underground phenom lights up Pitchfork and dilettante hipsters everywhere rejoice … this month. Scott Lucas attacks the stage screaming his guts out, night after night, bouncing around like a dyspeptic maniac and makes a record incorporating hook after chorus after dirty quasi-metal riff and … crickets. The critics, the real ones who aren’t on to Ariana Grande’s latest single, this week’s disposable pop band, hip-hop act or whatever dross rock major labels are subjecting listeners to, those douchebags are just too cool for whatever genre this “Copacetic” guy is supposed to be in. I mean, wasn’t he grunge or something? A Nirvana wannabe? Man, this is 2015!
Yeah, he’s a cranky fuck. But if you were Scott Lucas, you’d be punching walls and complaining on record, too. But Hey, Killer shows he’s still swinging for the fences, mass critical or popular acclaim be damned (and really, do we want to share him with the idiots? Maybe if he gets paid). And whatever you think of his political or cultural musings, who gives a fig in the end? He’s still producing art that sounds good. And in an increasingly bleak world, that’s what matters most.