The fourth proper studio album by St. Louis ska vets MU330 is no great departure for the band -- it's not like they went swing or cut an alternative-country record or anything -- though there are some surprises: a stab at ska-metal (eesh, that's a scary thought) on "Favorite Show," a glorious organ grind on said "Lincoln," the arrival of a fluegelhorn on some song (it's hard to tell). These are but nice additions to their sound (except for the metal thing), and the rest of the record, put out by Asian Man Records in Cali, wades through the safe waters of a hard mixture of punk and ska. The highlight, as always, is the dueling trombones of Rob Bell and Gerry Lundquist, though they're way too high in the mix for my taste. Great cover shot of some dude with baby standing in front of the Arch, too.
The worst lyric of the week, on the other hand, comes from some of the most horrifyingly bad music ever put out by a St. Louis artist, hands-down: "Lookin' for a high-school burnout/She's tasty and she's so young." This from the new record by transplanted-to-NYC guitarist Richard Fortus, formerly of Love Spit Love and Pale Divine. The band? Honky Toast. We're talking embarrassingly bad, as evidenced by the band's debut release on 550/Sony Records, Whatcha Gonna Do Honky?
You'd think, with song titles like "High School Burnout," "Shakin' and a Bakin'," "I Wanna Be on Welfare" and "Hair on My Teeth Again," that the shtick would at least be kind of funny, but it's not. The shtick? Dumbed-down boogie rock a la Black Crowes mixed with some AC/DC, which, in and of itself, I got no problem with. What I got a problem with is the fact that it's so obvious that the music is nothing other than a goddamn shtick; they might as well be Sha Na Na.
The experience of listening to this music is akin to diving for pennies; you take a deep breath, dive in the water, hold your breath and submerge yourself along the bottom for as long as you can, then swim back up to the surface, out of breath and a paltry 3 cents richer. What's the point? I couldn't keep my headphones on for more than 30 seconds before I had to whisk them off, suck a deep breath, grimace and put them back on until I ran out of breath again.
To add insult to injury, they're patently, intentionally offensive; then they don't even have to guts to back it up, judging from the disclaimer in the liner notes: "Apologies to anyone we have offended, offend, or will offend." Please: If you're gonna walk the walk and talk the talk, either don't apologize for it or just shut up.
At least one anonymous local record retailer agrees: "I never thought I'd find a record that would give Jackyl some redeeming qualities."
WRECKING BALL: "Our music is not considered gangsta. It's got more of a clubbish feel. When you say 'gangsta,' you talking about songs about killing, and we don't talk about killing. We talk more about playas and stuff -- mainly hustlers, pimpin'." That's Tony Nichols (a.k.a. 2-Tone), one of the executive producers, along with BoBo, of the WrecShop Records compilation Midwest Syndicate, one that's sold 3,000 copies in St. Louis since its release last year.
Midwest Syndicate isn't geared toward the gentle of heart; when Nichols says that his rappers talk about hustlers and pimpin', he's telling the truth. It's rough-and-ready booty music with a message, replete with a bottom-heavy groove and window-shaking bass. Musically, though it may not be considered gangsta -- there's little if any killing involved, and dealers get verbally slammed whenever they appear -- the disc has the No Limit/Master P vibe all over it. There's a sharp edge to it both musically and lyrically: During its 55 minutes, punks get smacked, haters are despised, verbal tantrums are thrown, ladies step out of their pantyhose, toes are sucked, love is spread, the industry gets slammed, ganja is smoked, Steak n' Shake is mentioned, "Hollywood Swingers" is sampled, Las Vegas is visited and, in general, 11 rappers (Chief Lo, BoBo, Nimrod, Lil' C, Scug Moe and Scug Cle, the Juggla, Insane, Chase, and M-G and G-Black) step up and tell the truth.
"I auditioned roughly 25 groups," says Nichols, "and we were trying to determine not just the skills; we wanted the people who really had the love, too, and actually were putting their lyrics in a way that would be beneficial toward them. We didn't want that gangsta role and talking about killing. We had a lot of people who were good, but they were just talking about the wrong stuff."
You can tell the members of the WrecShop crew when they're at the clubs: They're the ones in the hard hats -- a way, says Nichols, to create an image. "We're mainly known as the hard-hat people, because our image is WrecShop -- construction workers. We try to carry that image every place we go." You can catch the WrecShop crew every Sunday night at Affirmation East, 127 Collinsville Ave. in East St. Louis. They showcase in-town artists and out-of-town labels. Says Nichols: "We're trying to create an inlet for record labels who are trying to create a market here, because St. Louis don't have it."
LATE-BREAKING TIP: This Saturday, Jim Harper will pound the drums for Pave the Rocket for the last time. Says Harper: "I think it's time for a change. My musical interests are still there, but I think it's time that I write the music that I actually listen to. I'm really getting into making music on my computer and into the electr -- I don't want to say 'electronic' because that makes it sound like it's gonna be rave or house, and it's not." Harper stresses that there's no hard feelings -- the opposite, in fact: "The only bad feelings about this is sadness, because I've really liked playing with them. It's my favorite thing I've ever done musically." For the time being, you can catch Harper performing with Tiger Mountain. Pave the Rocket is auditioning drummers and will continue; they go into the studio to record their new album on April 5 (though they've extricated themselves from their deal with Deep Elm), with singer/guitarist Jason House adding the drum parts, and will be shopping the recording around. You can see Harper play with them one last time this Saturday, March 20. Also on the fantastic bill: Space Age Palmer, Duraluxe and Ironrite Mangle.
-- Randall Roberts