Saturday, June 13, 2009

H - Neil Hagerty - "Neil Michael Hagerty"

I fully admit to being a fan of junk rock. You know the kind: sloppy guitars, squawked vocals, dirty drums, little or no production, and vaguely irrelevant songs with totally irrelevant lyrics. Music that is generally more fun to make than to listen to: where the energy level is way more important than quality control. When needing a quick burst of adrenaline and devil may care attitude, this kind of music is my drug of choice.

Speaking of drugs, I also fully admit to being a fan of junky rock. This can possess some of the same attributes as described earlier, or can go in a more inert direction. Lyrics tend to be more important to the overall effect, though then are often more obtuse, and generally aren’t that much better. Musicianship is more lazy than sloppy (which generally corresponds to the musicians passing out while playing). Production is such as to make the music seem as disconnected as possible from reality. I prefer this type of sound when I want to zone out completely and need a soundtrack to an evening spent staring at the ceiling or my toes (depending on my mood).

Neil Hagerty has always had a foot firmly planted in both camps. When he was “guitarist” in the infamous noise rock band Pussy Galore with future hipster doofus Jon Spencer, it was all about the visceral, in your face sound of someone screaming in your ear while beating you about the head with a tire iron, while in his side – later full time – project, Royal Trux, he and partner Jennifer Herrema perfected the poise of a junkie couple locked in a studio, laying down tracks (of various kinds), then messing with, distorting, layering, and embellishing them to create a very disorienting mélange where melody & rhythm seemed to happen only by accident. Their second record “Twin Infinitives” is one of the most self indulgent pieces of indie crap I’ve ever tortured myself with: surprisingly, seeing as I’m one of the most self-indulgent musical masochists I know, I don’t have it anymore, & have no desire to hear it again. It’s THAT bad. Royal Trux definitely got better with each successive record, though; by their fifth record “Thank You” (their major label debut – I can’t imagine any credible record company that isn’t simply trying to horn in on the DIY crowd sinking money into this stuff. They rewarded the label’s interest in them with the disgusting picture of a clogged toilet on the cover of their next record “Sweet Sixteen”. They were dropped soon after), they sound like a classic southern rock band wacked out on downers: sure it’s still sloppy and greasy, but there are songs that actually resemble catchy MUSIC, and both Neil & Jennifer have very charismatic presences (especially Jennifer’s raspy vocals (obviously influenced greatly by emphysema patients – Neil’s vocals were more yowling ala Keith Richards)). Much better than the Black Crowes, anyway.

So when Neil released his first solo album in 2001, I wasn’t sure which side to expect – or even to see if there would be some crazy new direction he’d nod toward. “Jazz Odyssey”, perhaps. Well, it doesn’t differ than much from Royal Trux, except he reverts back to the screwing around in the studio sound of the earlier records than the band sound of the latter. And while he’s more accomplished now than he was then (it’s a CLEAN sounding record), these songs (and they ARE songs – not sketches or improv this time) are so forgettable that even though I finished listening to it about 20 minutes ago, I don’t recall any differentiating feature from one song to the next, outside of the opening track “Know That” which rips off its hook from the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat”. It does sound like a true solo record in that all the playing seems Hagerty-ized (even the ever present drum machine sounds phased). Neil sings in his lower register for much of the record, which definitely makes it more palatable for the ears – his high whine is pretty painful - and there’s plenty of overdubbed guitars & keyboards, none of which sounds “right”. While I was listening to the record, I certainly didn’t mind it, but I didn’t pay much attention to it either. There’s nothing to stick.

VERDICT: wait….did I actually listen to this record? I can’t remember.
VIDEO: i saw Royal Trux 3 times when they were together, and this is a pretty accurate Neil performance. I dare you to sit through the whole thing.

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