ROYAL TRUX Thank You (Hut/Virgin)
Royal Trux are a New York boy/girl duo, augmented by whoever seems to be around at the time, and this is their fifth album, reputedly their most commercial. (No, I havent heard the any of the previous four, but Im intrigued at the prospect of anything even less commercial than this!) Their gutters eye view of the world (hence titles such as "The Sewers of Mars") is spiked with a, thankfully, more wide-ranging gamut of musical influences - chiefly early 70s Captain Beefheart, Little Feat at their quirkiest, "Exile On Main St", "Radio City"-era Big Star, spiralling out to 1977 Iggy and Television, maybe, all produced by David Briggs, the man responsible for some of Nick Cave and Neil Youngs finest moments.
"Thank You" needs some committed wearing in, but, once youve acclimatised yourself to its sinewy, choppy rhythms, low-life lyricism that makes Lou Reed look like Barbara Cartland and growled vocals, it becomes extremely addictive, nowhere more so than the single "Map Of The City", a song whose twisting rhythmic possibilities are expertly explored to the full in under four minutes. Other gems include the raucous opener "A Night To Remember" and the childhood tales of "(Have You Met) Horror James?". Not everybodys cup of char, but if you too have worn out your copy of "Sailin Shoes" it comes highly recommended.
ROYAL TRUX Accelerator (Domino)
"Accelerator" is the result of what Royal Truxs new record company describe as the greatest rock n roll swindle ever. Formed from the remains of American sonic terrorists Pussy Galore (who once attempted to cover the Stones "Exile On Main St" in its entirety, and whose ranks also included John Spencer, of later Blues Explosion infamy), after releasing a few cacophonous indie albums Royal Trux signed to Virgin subsidiary Hut, who had the crazed idea of turning them into MTV-friendly college rock unit shifters. After one fabulous platter of raunch n roll ("Thank You"), they presented their taskmasters with the allegedly unlistenable "Sweet Sixteen", an album specifically designed to allow them to engineer their way out of the grip of The Man, replete with a cover photograph of what apparently looks like a toilet bowl-ful of bleeding intestines. Result: Virgin send them away with a flea in their ear, enough money to build a home studio and buy a green Jaguar, and "Accelerator", the album that heralds the rebirth of the Trux.
Think of bands that have made a virtue of stupidity - or at least not overexerted themselves in the search for musical meaning. The Ramones are probably the obvious example, but you might cite the likes of Slade, The Stooges or perhaps T.Rex. Well, with "Accelerator" Royal Trux seem to have dumbed down to a level that undercuts them all. Many of the nine songs presented here have little memorable or discernible lyrical content beyond the repeated bellowing of their title, over a rawk backing so crude and rough that it makes "Exile On Main St" look like "Brothers In Arms" - unbelievable but true. (And strangely enough the b-side of their next single just happens to be a cover of "Money For Nothing"!) "Accelerator" is rock music at its simplest, and most primal, but its also good-time music that avoids the pitfalls of boorish cliché - take the recent single "Im Ready", which just has to be the ultimate hedonist anthem. Somewhere in the mix are buried all sorts of exotic instrumentation - kazoo, pennywhistle and clever synth and editing technology - but the cumulative effect sounds more like a 60s beat groups Transit falling off a cliff (which rather makes a mockery of the virtues of the heavy vinyl pressing Domino have thoughtfully produced, but thanks all the same).
Two standouts: "Yellow Kid", apparently about a cartoon character, is all howling, pleading and harmonica abuse, while closer "Stevie" has a "Songs In The Key Of Life"-recorded-on-a-Dictaphone-during-a-riot vibe that belies the fact that the Stevie in question is not Wonder but Sonic Youths Steve Shelley.
I like "Accelerator". Its an album Ive been a little reticent to play during the last few weeks, because its the aural equivalent of sandpaper, but once you acclimatise to the roughness of the new Royal Trux sound theres much delight to be had. And who should be in their live band but Slint/Tortoise/Aerial M guitarist Dave Pajo...wonder what he thinks of it.
ROYAL TRUX Veterans Of Disorder (Domino)
Following last year's gravelly, abrasive "Accelerator" with almost indecent haste (by Royal Trux standards), the appropriately titled "Veterans Of Disorder" is very much an album of two parts. The first half is all two-and-a-half garage pop nuggets, distorted out of all recognition by Jennifer Herrema's corrosive, absinthe-gargling growl. As typical as any other track is recent non-hit single "Waterpark" (where, naturally enough, the water's cool and the sun is hot), a so-dumb-it's-clever mash up of "The Ramones" and "Exile On Main Street".
The second half of the album is more, erm, experimental, nowhere more so than "Sickazz Dog", an effects odyssey that draws equally on The Beatles' "Revolution 9" and the bizarre tape trickery that tied together the second side of Jerry Garcia's eponymous debut. The nine minutes of "Blue Is The Frequency", by comparison, sound like some kind of prog motorway pile-up, with post-rock legend Dave Pajo (once of Slint, Tortoise and Aerial M, now Papa M) staggering dazed from the wreckage with only his bass for protection.
For the first time listener "Veterans Of Disorder" is probably too much calamity to absorb in one sitting, and if you haven't yet heard the poisoned Stones-style boogie of the "Thank You" album that would probably serve as an gentler introduction into the Trux's twisted soundworld. But if you've survived and, dare I say it, enjoyed, all the curveballs thrown by the band from then to now, step right up.
ROYAL TRUX Pound For Pound (Domino)
"Pound For Pound" is the Trux's eighth album and, as if you couldn't tell, it's 40 minutes' worth of good-natured "Exile On Main St" swagger, spiced with a soupcon of rockabilly, funk, soul and bubblegum pop. Gone is the wild, tape-looping experimentation that characterised the second half of last year's appropriately titled "Veterans Of Disorder"; "Pound For Pound" finds RT at their most tuneful, or, being more realistic, least cacophonous since 1995's major label debut "Thank You". Not that they'll be troubling "Top Of The Pops" any time in the foreseeable future: Herrema and Hagerty's idea of a pop song is something called "Sunshine And Grease", which is four minutes of leering and diseased Beach Boys sentiment.
There are two occasions when "Pound For Pound" rises above the background clatter and aspires to something greater. Opener "Call Out The Lions" is drowning in early-70s singer-songwriter sentimentality, but sounds so sincere you wonder whether the Trux actually mean it. "Small Thief" is the other standout, a wah-wah funky thing that seems to have ingested superhuman quantities of early Curtis Mayfield albums.
But otherwise, it's business as usual around here. The insert photos show a band whose fashions have ceased to evolve since attending an early Dinosaur Jr gig, and claim the album was bashed out complete in the space of six days. Which, comfortingly, is exactly the way music like this should be.ROYAL TRUX Sweet Sixteen (Hut)
"Sweet Sixteen" was the Trux's fifth long player, and second for major label taskmasters Hut, Virgin's more credible faux-indie division. Having achieved some critical success with the fine "Thank You", the perception was that "Sweet Sixteen" would catapult the band to some kind of alt-rock success, and you can almost hear the group cracking under the strain to comply. Most of the thirteen tracks clock in at a radio-friendly four to five minutes, and enjoy the relative discipline of a verse-chorus-verse structure. But the band's natural tendency to screw things up travelled before them again, the cover photo of what appears to be a toilet bowl full of intestines blunting the album's chances of success a little. Virgin paid the Trux $1.3 million to never darken their doors again, which the band invested in a home studio and a green Jaguar. (Every time I hear the chorus of "Don't Try To Hard" it sounds unnervingly like "Woah! We bought a Jaguar" rather than the printed claim of "1*34 Don't try to hard").
But how bad is it? Not all that, truth be told. It retains the Trux's convention of operating on the precipice of complete collapse, full of rowdy, unkempt rock ahn rahl that owes as much to stadium-hogging mega-Americana like Black Oak Arkansas and Grand Funk Railroad as it does to more obvious antecedents such as "Exile On Main St" and The Cramps. But it sounds like an awkward amalgam of the excess musicality that characterised the sparser, David Briggs-produced "Thank You" and the experimentation that would emerge on their later albums (they even sample Lenny Bruce at one point). Not exactly a glorious failure, but at least a necessary step on the path to autonomy that would allow the band to operate free of constraints in their final years.ROYAL TRUX Hand Of Glory (Domino)
As close to indescribable as any Royal Trux album can claim to be, here's what the sticker says: "From a long-forgotten trunk: two songs, twin slabs, circa 1989. This bad-ass black, white and blue magic is a kind of Burial Dub - beats from ten years past - the lost Royal Trux album".
Which seems to be code for some heavy avant-garde experimentation. "Domo Des Burros (Two Sticks)" is at least a conventional song, in that it has lyrics and melody, albeit one that surges, sprawls and gurgles, beset by hectoring voices and random sounds. The five parts of "The Boxing Story" dispense with such conventional restrictions in favour of a tape collage that makes "Revolution 9" sound like "Louie Louie". It's reminiscent of the second side of the Trux's own "Veterans Of Disorder" album, being all insistent shards of noise and effects, with 'real' instruments surging over and under the mess, a crazed, wrong mutation of cosy old 'indie-dance'.
Although "Hand Of Glory" is extremely hard going, somewhat perversely it's almost easy listening. These pieces are so intensely knotted that it's almost impossible to analyse or deconstruct them, the only practical response being to let them slide over you like toxic lava. As a roadmap to the furthest points of Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema's crazed imaginations "Hand Of Glory" has undeniable merit: it might not be great music, but the very fact that it exists is almost enough.
Neil Michael Hagerty