Sunday, September 11, 2022

Negative Approach - Tied Down - Melody Maker - March 16 1991


plus bonus Laughing Hyenas bashing from this Spin review 1995 paired with Royal Trux

Thank You (Virgin)       
Hard Times (Touch & Go)  

     Where could US underground rock 'go', after Sonic 
Youth's "Daydream Nation" reached the outer-limits of 
'reinvention of the guitar'? Why, back to 'the source', of 
course--black R&B (and the late '60s/early 70s white 
appropriations thereof), in a quest to relearn the lost 
fundamentals of 'groove' and 'feel'. 

Hence the backwards journey taken by a new breed of blues fundamentalists like 
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Come and Mule (formed, 
coincidentally, by two refugees from Laughing Hyenas). I can 
only marvel at the timelag syndrome that bedevils Amerindie's 
relationship with black music: unlike British bands, US 
rockers only seem comfortable venerating African-American pop 
when it's dead and buried, e.g. Big Chief vis-a-vis early 
Funkadelic. Doubtless, we'll have to wait twenty years before 
the US underground wakes up to the booty-coercing futurism of 
SWV, Craig Mack and Underground Resistance. 

Just to make sure we know exactly where they're coming 
from, Laughing Hyenas namecheck Howling Wolf and John Lee 
Hooker in interviews, and insert the word 'blues' into not 
one but TWO songs on their new LP--'Hard Time Blues', with 
its risible "I bin down since I could crawl" line, and the 
maudlin, country-inflected "Home of the Blues". The Hyenas 
used to be a noise-core outfit, whose sole distinguishing 
feature was the flamethrower vocals of John Brannon (who used 
to sear ears in the ultra-taut hardcore unit Negative 

Despite their blues affectations, the Hyenas 
purvey what used to be called 'high-octane rock'n'roll', 
firmly rooted in the late '60s sound of their native Detroit; 
Brennon now sounds like Iggy if he'd been fixated on Jagger 
rather than Jim Morrison. 

While the band can't swing for toffee, they do rumble 
effectively. But Brannon's slurred roar ('take me fo' a 
ride', 'reach out yo' han'', ad nauseam) has less to do with 
Robert Johnson than with The Stooges of "I'm Sick Of You" and 
"Not Right".  If heavily-amplified, fuzzed-to-fuck self-pity 
is your particular cup of poison, drink deep. Me, I'll take 
my blooze bastardisation from those who take Ozzy rather than 
Muddy as blues-print, i.e. Alice In Chains (who could really 
make something of Hyena titles like 'Slump' and 'Each Dawn I 
Like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (that other offshoot of 
garage-skronk pioneers Pussy Galore), Royal Trux have at 
least earned the right to go atavistic. Having proved they 
can push the envelope (with the drug-damaged lo-fi chaos 
theorems of "Twin Infinitives" and the "Exile on Main Street
filtered through "Daydream Nation" of "Cats and Dogs"), it's 
only fair that Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema should be 
allowed to contract their raunch'n'roll to fit the contours of 
Black Crowes-style retro. On their major label debut Thank 
You, Trux retain the supple boogie glide of "Thorn In My 
Pride", the baleful thrust of "Remedy", but purge the hokey 
Humble Pie over-emoting that makes Crowes stick in craw. 
Thank You is Sticky-Fingered to the max, its sinewy riffs, 
grinding bass and seething percussion harking back to 'Can't 
You Hear Me Knockin'?". 

What sets Trux leagues above and 
beyond Laughing Hyenas is that they funk, in that fierce 
white-boy fashion that early '70s rock had down pat, but 
which punk extinguished when it replaced syncopation with 

Song-wise, Royal Trux don't really write tunes so much 
as riffs; Hagerty & Herrema's elegantly wasted unison drawl 
functions as a vocal equivalent to rhythm guitar, just 
another twist'n'tug factor in the all-important groove. 
Herrema's haggard croon (you can practically hear the nodes 
forming on her distressed larynx) is at its vicious best on 
"You're Gonna Lose"--offset by Hagerty's gloating backing 
chorus, she expectorates the venomous put-downs, and proves 
herself one of the best 'bad' singers since Alice Cooper 
circa 'Elected'. 

Overall, though, what with lyrics that are 
as incomprehensibly Philip K. Dick-like as ever, Thank You 
isn't about songs and singing, but grooves and guitar. The 
album was produced by David Briggs (who worked on many of 
Neil Young's '70s albums), and appropriately Hagerty's short 
solo on "Map Of The City" has a jalapeno-sting redolent of 
'Southern Man'. Generally, Hagerty avoids the gaseous, 
mirage-like soloing that made 'Cats and Dogs' such a 
gloriously narcotic haze, and concentrates on a rhythm/lead 
hybrid that's tres tres Keef. 

 Best comes last with the aformentioned 'You're Gonna 
Lose' and the snakehipped, sultry 'Shadow of the Wasp'. The 
highest praise you can offer Thank You is that it's like 
time travel. While this ultimately underlines the inadequacy 
of the Amerindie state-of-art (basically antiquarianism, or 
at best, lo-fi's retro-eclecticism), it also indicates that 
Royal Trux have made a muthafunkin' fine record.