April 11, 2002

H is for Hard Rock

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Want some bitter irony? Six years ago, the hard rock duo Local H burst into the national consciousness with their sophomore album, As Good As Dead, and a pair of fairly successful radio singles — “Bound for the Floor” and “Fritz’s Corner.” The singles were pure energetic grunge, and the album was a joyously angstful concept piece about a wannabe rock star trying (and failing) to escape his small-town life. The follow-up, Pack Up the Cats, chronicled that same young kid, now older and finding that even being a successful rock star hasn’t made him happy.

The irony? Shortly after this concept album about the record industry’s unfairness was released, Island Records dropped the band, killing the record’s momentum. Four years have passed without a peep from Local H, but now they’ve returned with a new album. The intervening years don’t seem to have hurt frontman Scott Lucas much, despite the loss of drummer Joe Daniels and his replacement by ex-Triple Fast Action skinsman Brian St. Clair.

Here Comes the Zoo hits nearly as hard as any of Local H’s previous albums, and after barely a minute into this disc, you’ll have forgotten that this was recorded a full four years after the last album. Lucas’ fractured Cobain-esque vocals are as raw and emotional as ever, his hybrid guitar (specially equipped with bass pickups) is still ferocious, and St. Clair mimics Daniels’ primitive, bone-shaking beats perfectly.

Lucas’ influences are clearly rooted in classic hard rock. Zoo is arranged like an old LP record: the back cover lists the two “sides” of the record, numbered separately, and the division in the music is just as clear. Each side of the album begins and ends naturally, harkening back to the days when bands constructed albums to fit the vinyl format. Side one ends with the 9-minute epic “(Baby Wants to) Tame Me,” a fuzzy, melodic rocker that ebbs and flows with lovely ease. Side two concludes with a cathartic, climactic burst of rage in the form of “What Would You Have Me Do?,” a 25-minute piece that verges from riff-heavy punk to pure feedback to the quiet hum of street noise, before meting out one last ear-splintering roar of guitar distortion.

Elsewhere, Lucas’ songwriting is as good as it’s ever been. The roaring punk rocker “Creature Comforted” features a typically biting Lucas lyric about society’s emphasis on material goods: “hey, come on now, we’re all defanged and declawed/ we’re creature comforted.” The opener “Hands on the Bible” is another of Lucas’ assaults on the small Midwestern town he grew up in, this time criticizing conservative Christian values.

Throughout the album, Local H proves again and again that they are the most inventive band performing in the hard rock genre today. Of all the countless groups who can claim to have been “influenced” by the early 90s grunge trend — a bland and mediocre parade of Nickelbacks, Creeds, and Tantrics — Local H may be the only one to take Cobain’s legacy and do something vital with it.

With so much homogeneity on the airwaves, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a truly deserving band like Local H return for another shot at success.

Archived article by Ed Howard