Dogs Under Stress
If Lou Reed and John Cale left the Velvet Underground with a sometimes justified, sometimes not, sense of arty pretension, drummer Moe Tucker came out just looking for a job. Tucker got married, moved to Phoenix, got divorced and moved to Georgia, spent some time working in her local Wal-mart, and along the way kept her hand in the music business through a string of low-budget recordings, tours and collaborations with the likes of Sonic Youth, Jad Fair, Daniel Johnston and assorted bandmates from the Velvet days. In 1993, of course, Tucker joined the reunited Velvet Underground tour -- a mostly European jaunt that produced Live MCMLXXXXIII -- but the work she's done on Dogs Under Stress, with onetime Velvet Sterling Morrison on guitar, taps a vibrancy and a primitive rock-and-roll vibe that the Velvets left behind 20 years ago.
"Crackin Up" kick-starts the disc with a chugging bop that sounds like nothing so much as a graduate project in the Jonathan Richman school of songwriting, and that jangly vein continues through "Me, Myself and I," "I've Seen Into Your Soul" and "Crazy Hannah's Ridin' the Train" before slowing down for the year's best take (and there have been plenty of them) on Fred Weatherly's "Danny Boy." The rest of the disc comes off sounding like the sloppy good-time rush of Pavement without the irony, and there are more than a few weird moments when Tucker's voice sounds like the unacknowledged precursor to that of Hole's Courtney Love, without the bile. Odd comparisons both, but worth noting, since Tucker's rightful audience may be digging what she spawned without knowing that the original is still in healthy circulation.
-- Brad Tyer
Since his debut album of a few years back, Papa Chuk has left his hometown of Austin, settled in Houston and been swept into a record deal with Pendulum (recently acquired by EMI Records Group) from which this, his second album, emerges. Actually, though, Badlands sounds like two albums in one. Side one has an up-tempo ruffneck feel, and the second half slows down to something approximating a gangster roll.
"Desolate One" is a sagacious choice for the first single/video, with refreshing production, engaging subject matter and a hook-laden quasi-ragamuffin vocal. This is the approach dominant on the first half of the record, with the second track "Make Way for the Rude Boy" presenting the disc's operative theme. Papa Chuk performs this style well, and in combination with the nimble funk of "Freak it Crazy," "Some Ill S**t," "Flip the S**t" and "Down -- Dirty," the introductory moments of Badlands quickly set up exalted expectations.
"Come on and get down, boogie-oogie with the ruffneck" raps Red Man in a guest spot, and Papa Chuk sends "Peace to the East/ And my nigguz in Queens/For we drink the Guiness Stout/And hang out on the scene." The playful funk and associations with East Coast boogie that dynamize The Badlands fade towards the album's conclusion though, becoming increasingly slow, dark and sometimes mournful. Most notable in the descending spiral are "Lord Have Mercy," "The Draft, I.A.B." and ÒCesspool, Runway," which makes the grim but in no way radical assertion that "the world is a cesspool."
The disc's split personality sounds like the product of a label that wanted an album it could market to both funk-hungry clubgoers and hard-rocking, Geto Boys-listening b-boys, and while side one is undoubtedly more energizing, side two does succeed in exhibiting Papa Chuk's penchant for thoughtful narratives that work on raw subject matter -- when they work at all -- without the benefit of hooks or elaborate production.
-- Bryan Patrick
Living here in Houston, it's easy enough to hate Dallas. With the exception of the psychobilly Rev. Horton Heat, our northern sister's musical product hasn't offered much to inspire affection (think Little Sister, originally from Dallas, or Tripping Daisy or Edie Brickell, fer chrissakes). But before this, the band's major label debut, I'd never heard the Toadies, and it's far and away the best rock record to come out of Texas in too damn many moons.
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As has been (sometimes derisively) noted, there's a very definite Pixies influence at work here, from the way that the Toadies use rhythmic quirks to keep things moving to the very sound of much of the guitar work, but singer/lyricist Todd Lewis tells me the Pixies comparisons stopped being funny after the 50th was made. And you have to sympathize, because even if a Pixie-ish sound is the jumping-off point, Toadies' guitars hammer harder, the vocals carry more testosterone than goof and the tunes on Rubberneck are enormously strong songs in their own right.
They also sound a lot more personal than anything the Pixies ever wrote. Lewis, apparently, has endured his fair share of fucked-up relationships, and the angles he dredges up for these songs succumb to neither whining nor posturing. "Quitter" is maybe the best example, with Lewis howling like a betrayed dog at some ex or another who didn't have the guts to go the whole nine yards: "Lover. You happy now? Quitter...Quitter."
If there's a weak song in the batch its memory is erased by the great tunes surrounding it. But Rubberneck's strength is the sheer bulk of songs that stick in your head days and weeks after first listen; songs like "Possum Kingdom" that should, by rights, dominate commercial rock radio in the coming months. If you're not hearing it soon, that only proves that -- boo -- something's wrong with commercial rock radio.
-- Brad Tyer