Look Good in Leather

A St. Louis-bred twosome takes on a horror classic

They don't make movies like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre anymore. The second great film inspired by the antics of serial killer Ed Gein (Psycho was the first), Massacre (along with Night of the Living Dead) brought horror movies back into vogue in the '70s, the genre's popularity having slipped since its '50s heyday. Massacre slaughtered hippies, and Leatherface begat the teen slasher films that bedeviled the '80s. But where Jason and his ilk were mostly interested in body counts, Massacre strived for something beyond violence: For all its chain-saw wounds and people hanging on meat hooks, the movie is mostly a triumph of atmosphere. As creepy as Leatherface was, the Sawyer house -- filled with odd taxidermy, bone chairs and a grandpa who couldn't move but could drink blood -- was the real shocker in the film.

But something was missing from that atmosphere: music. Now that's changed, sort of, thanks to Puerto Muerto. The band, whose anachronistic sound and anarchic tales have inspired the label "punk folk," just completed recording Songs of Muerto County, a "lost" soundtrack to the classic film. Puerto Muerto is made up of former St. Louisans Tim Kelley (guitarist/vocalist) and Christa Meyer(drummer/vocalist). With albums titled Your Bloated Corpse Has Washed Ashore and See You in Hell, it isn't surprising that their take on American tradition is a little creepy.

Clive Solomon, owner of Puerto Muerto's record label, originally asked the duo to re-record the '70s British horror classic The Wicker Man. "But it didn't make any sense," says Kelley, "because we're American, and it's got kind of a Scottish/English/fairies kind of bent. We thought about it and realized that the Texas Chain Saw Massacre didn't have much of a score. The director originally had just added a bunch of percussion to it. So we thought: Why don't we try that?"

The result doesn't sound like one might expect: no screeching strings or ominous rumbles. The songs are gorgeous and spare, including one beautiful waltz-time ballad -- perhaps some of the unlikeliest words to be attached to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One colleague who listened to the disc said the sound evoked the mood of the old spaghetti westerns, which comes quite close to Puerto Muerto's intent.

"We wanted it to be an album on its own," Kelley says. "We wanted to be able to bring out some of the more romantic aspects of the movie. If you watch some of the cinematography, it's sort of epic, with lots of beautiful landscapes. We wanted to take it away from being thought of as a slasher and bring up some of the aspects that don't get noticed."

The problem with Songs is that is does work as a stand-alone album, so much so that it would be difficult to match the songs to the movie at home. But Kelley hopes to be able to show people how the soundtrack measures up in the future.

"We made a DVD with the music on it," Kelley says. "If we're going to be able to get that to people, that would be great. As it is, you really can't line [the album] up with the movie."

There's another way to hear the music with the film, but it requires crossing the Atlantic. The duo, now living in Chicago, will be hitting English movie theaters later this summer to play their soundtrack as the movie screens above them. "If it goes well in the U.K., we'll probably do it here as well," Kelley promises.

Unfortunately, Leatherface won't be in attendance this Saturday at the Red Sea, where Puerto Muerto is making one of its frequent return visits. And this time there'll be something new for fans in addition to the new songs: a fuller percussion section. "Christa is going to be playing a few more drums than she usually does," Kelley says. "She used to just bang on one, but she's actually got a little kit now."


Speaking of movie soundtracks, this week I got an advance copy of Lou wunderkind Nelly's single from the upcoming remake of The Longest Yard. Nelly also acts in the new film, and early reports give him good reviews. That's a good thing, because "Errtime" is as bad a song as Nelly's ever put out as a single. Maybe it's wrong to expect too much from a movie that replaces Burt Reynolds with Adam Sandler, but "Errtime" is a total toss-off, the kind of midtempo sing-songy track that Nelly can put out in his sleep. The successful but not extraordinary Sweat/Suit albums showed that Nelly has already peaked as a recording artist.

Very, very few hip-hop artists have maintained lifelong careers. For every LL Cool J, there's a dozen Kool Moe Dees. So following Ice Cube into Hollywood is probably a smart move for Nelly. If he can make it in Hollywood, more power to him, but it would be a shame if we started looking at new Nelly releases with the same jaundiced eye that we reserve for new Will Smith records.

 
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