You're Never Gonna Get It
A Review of Whatever Happened To PJ Soles
There's only one way to listen to rock and roll: From beginning to end on a very loud stereo. Doesn't matter if it's a record, a tape, or a cd; you better listen to that thing the way it was made and the way it was meant to be played.
Concept albums embrace this ideology by not only forcing you to do the above by building progressively on each song after the previous but by also being on the bleeding edge. Whether this means technologically, commercially, soulfully, or musically I leave up to you, but there is no denying a concept album's near and dear attachment to toeing the line between keeping it steady and wigging out. Regular rock prides itself by stomping on glass; conceptual rock and roll (prog rock to those who feel the need to categorize everything) eats the glass and then spits it back into your face all the while balancing on the razor's edge.
There's no denying that the most powerful piece of the concept album's army is the bookend. You start out with a rather subdued song that occasionally oversteps it boundaries and you end with a well-aimed Abram's shell to the face. How you get there is up to the band but one thing is for sure: teeth will be cut and so will the skin they're hanging by.
Local H understand this.
Taking cue from two entries into the catalogue before this1, Local H put their wisdom, their chops, and their money where their mouth is. Following an album - Pack Up The Cats - produced by Roy Thomas Baker is no easy thing - ask Queen. Following up the same album after a label buy-out and being dropped is even harder. No-frills and bare to the bone, 2002's Here Comes The Zoo was a throw-back akin to The Who's Who's Next. Straight up rock and roll with a gut-punch attitude, but it didn't quite live up. Perhaps a new drummer was the cause of this, or maybe it was something deeper, after all, the band was playing the best live shows they've ever played at this point and the individual songs were the best the band had ever made.
It all lacked definition, though. Like Pink Floyd after Syd; Who are we? What is my misery? What, exactly, is keeping me up at night and turning my stomach into a vice and my head into a pneumatic drill?
The long-awaited answer is a girl by the name of PJ Soles. You might remember her from Rock and Roll High School and Halloween, as well as some of the best movies from the 80s. A teen icon and something to dream of when you can't sleep; what a heart-throb.
Now we have motive, and with motive we have reason, and with reason we have outcome. What is the outcome? Roll call! Starting at track two:
Everyone Alive is an ode to the amalgamation of everyday life. Embodying the music soul of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, Everyone Alive sets the album up from the get-go as a very aggressive, fiery, and confrontational outing:
Oh honey, hey, hello, how was your day?
Work was work, don't know any other way
But I'm alive
Like everyone's alive.
I said hey, hello, mom and dad
Are things great, okay, or just plain bad?
Are you alive?
Is everyone alive?
Or bad life?
Setting the stage early for a midlife crisis, Scott Lucas (singer, songwriter, guitarist and bassist) bitterly takes aim at the most mass-produced fallacy of them all: California. Sardonic and matter-of-fact, California Songs pulls on 49 states worth of anger, bitterness, and resentment. Taking shots at the regular Joes, the prima-donnas, and those who play both (the guiltiest of them all), California Songs quickly gains focus and we see who the real sucker-punch is for:
Yeah, your heaven is a lie
Just more shit that I don't buy
Yeah, they're headin' for the coast
They're movin' out in droves
Sendin' back reports on the radio
The message is the same
It's gettin' pretty lame
California dreamin's on the radio.
We can all agree on that.
And here we go again
It's never gonna end
We're all so sick of California songs
Yeah we know you love LA.
There's nothin' left to say
Please no more California songs
And f**k New York too.
The lesson here? Don't piss off the Midwest, and play some new music for Christ's sake, California. Here's one for the coast...
Segueing straight into Dick Jones, Local H downshift from volatile and extreme harshness. Taking the podium and speaking for those who are too lost to, Dick Jones is as honest as a mother's love:
You're on your fifth trip with no buzz in sight
And that asshole hasn't shut up all night
You wanna tell yourself that you'll be all right
But who would you fool?
And the hardest thing in life to do, hurt the person you love the most:
Left foot, right foot, two time it
Left foot, right foot, you got it
Left foot, right foot, two time it
Left foot, right foot, you got it
Left foot, right foot, now you've got it
Walk away and fast
Turn around and leave him behind
Let's stop and take a breather here for a minute. So far we have a downtrodden attitude plagued by the mass-commercialization of the world, the music he loves, and the woman he loves. We've got hard, harder, and then a breakdown. Where Are They Now, the album's opening track and first half of the bookend, is starting to make a
bit more sense. Ya never, ya never, ya never gonna get it...
With a drummer that is to John Bonham what John Bonham himself was to Keith Moon and a guitarist/bassist combo that can successfully combine modern-day psychadelia2, old-style rock chops (ala Pete Townsend), and the pop know-how of Cheap Trick, you knew there had to be a straight up catchy hard rock number. Not just any hard rock number, but one featuring a harmonica solo. If you didn't believe they were from Chicago, well, you better now. Money On The Dresser reads like a play-by-play on PJ Soles career and how the Hollywood machine grinds its gears. They're pimping you out...
I think of PJ Soles
And wonder where you are
I never see you anymore
Where do you think they go?
All the fallin' stars
Heaven doesn't know you like I do.
The duality of the album becomes clear as crystal on this track, tentatively titled PJ Soles. PJ Soles may be the headline and the star, but is it his love for the teen idol that dominates, or the
love for the girl who he can't help but be reminded of? Regardless of the aim, the track holds a deep affection for the love with a very guarded bitterness over the loss hiding in the background.
Perhaps it is the girl that caused the fallout in Dick Jones, but even with the truth unknown, the bitterness and spite built up over years slowly becomes apparent:
To me it makes no nevermind
Just one thousand tear-stained looks
The gauzy haze I sink into
You're just one part of my free-fall
This part of me will never close
And if I do
Think of you
It's only in the darkest place inside of me.
Ending like a fight with your girlfriend or wife that leads to her walking out and you fuming mad at both yourself and her, PJ Soles can only be followed up with a song (How's The Weather Down There?)that screams of rash, brutal hurt and the kind of damaging things that are said in such a mindframe. The drums play like your heart and the guitar slowly feedbacks with your anger, and suddenly you burst:
Take the things you want and leave everything you need
But you better take heed you won't get to see me bleed
I can always change but you'll always be the same
And it's such a crying shame but someone should take the blame.
How's The Weather is out for blood.
I know I'm being mean and I know I'm playing rough
And I know you've had it tough but I think I've had enough
I was unaware of you ever playing fair
And I really don't care
How's the weather down there?
Featuring a solo that that's just as meandering as it is fun
(think Gilmour on Meddle), How's The Weather is the kind of fist-pumping, I-just-got-tired-of-the-worst-relationship-in-my-life kind of song that might just keep you from watching Chasing Amy and complaining about it.
That's it for the first half of the disc. Coming up: Neil Young is still the baddest mother-f**ker alive, the 80s make a come-back, and your reproductive organs sustain heavy casualties. Back in five (three, sir). And three, two, one...
For those of you outside of the Midwest or the Northern edge of the Deep South (twice the fun, half the guilt), or for those of you who don't know your bourbon, Buffalo Trace was the very first distillery to use reverse osmosis to produce its bourbon, a landmark in its time. It also happens to be the name of the leading track of the
second half of this concept album. Both conventional wisdom and the unwritten rules of concept tell us that the first song on the second half signifies a change in pace. The tone of the album changes completely; lyrically, musically, and otherwise. You don't focus on a new direction; instead, the second half is almost always the downhill slope. Universally, the second half is pretty much the consequence of the first half, and at the end, resolve is to be had; the ending of the
story and the closing bookend.
Buffalo Trace honours this tradition while at the same time being one small step for the album, one giant leap for Local H. Always a band to pay tribute to sarcasm and Midwestern irony, Buffalo Trace sounds like something Neil Young would get up and play if he were to endure another Harvest session. War, the Holy Ghost, and necessity. All commented on in addition to an entire time period being
represented. The song feels like a large social commentary on the late 1800s (the time when bourbon became popular), yet isn't out of place due to the fact that the same problems they had then have finally come around full circle and are plaguing this very generation. All in all, Buffalo Trace might very well most well-written song on the
album. It sure as hell features the best solo I've heard in a decade.
Heaven's on the way down
Sweet relief, fallin' free
I can spot a dope-sick junkie fiend
Speed of sound
It's comin' round
Heaven's on the way down
Heaven's on the way
Thinkin' that it's over
There's a statue with your face
It's in a park bearing your name
And I'd love to take you there
But no one really cares and who's to blame
Yeah, be patient
But patient's just another game
And if you never stay, it wouldn't matter anyway
But that's okay
Two somber, mellow songs, and then it comes down to this. You better be wearing a cup or this song's going to blow your head off. Parodying the Judas Priest home video Heavy Metal Parking Lot, Heavy Metal Bakesale wants to make sure you don't pollute the gene pool with your hair-metal loving, parent's-basement dwelling, toxic-avenger offspring. Few songs revel and take such pure unbridled
enjoyment in shoving the 45-going-on-23 attitude right back in their face. Are they pissed off? You bet. Are they having fun? That too. Should this song be taken tongue-in-cheek? Definitely. Remember to remember sarcasm, Local H do.
Combine the self-conscious aim of Heavy Metal Bakesale with the trials and tribulations that have already transpired and you have the culmination that is Mellowed. Segueing straight-away from Bakesale, Mellowed is especially strong thanks to the open heart and soul behind it. Sounding like an AA meeting put into lyrical form, the song takes on a very cathartic attitude. This is something that must get out. The lyrics and honesty instantly remind one of Mother from The Wall while the solo is as beautifully constructed as Gilmour's from Comfortably Numb. Perfection in unity; not a single thing about this song is out of place, and it rings as true as any pain you or I have ever experienced.
Drenched in effect with a synth and a complete disregard for believing anything one's told, That's What They All Say is the pointman for the game-winning goal. Providing closure for the entire rest of the album in both musical and lyrical form. Taking a hint from all the various musical aspects of all the previous songs and tying together all the various meanings is a hard task, but it does them all
flawlessly, leaving room for a nice, tidy ending. Perhaps best defined as a Yes jam on acid providing the soundtrack for a Stanley Kubrick movie, That's What They All Say is riddled with cliches, half-truths, and double entendres, all backed by only a two-man band that plays like the Magnificent Seven of rock and roll.
And finally, here we are. The end. Halcyon Days (Where Were You Then?). Stylistically made to resemble the music at the time PJ Soles was famous, the song sounds like it was the opener to a John Hughes movie, complete with melodic fills and the mentality that the entire 70s generation who grew up in the 80s were completely skipped over. The closing bookend to a rollercoaster of a ride. Everything will be all right, even if they might not be.
A fantastic waste of time,
Life is long but it all moves so fast,
Your first and your last,
Afraid of the future but I'm bored with the past
And it's great,
Yeah it's great
It's so great
Remember when you wanted it all to end...