Grant Hart has been busy in his garage.
And likely been eating a lot of omelets. How else do you explain the hard core, old school sound of Hot Wax? He has been actively stapling egg crates and foam to 50 year old 2x4s and perhaps even intentionally blowing a few fuses in a valiant attempt to capture that sound. The one that every garage band hits on cassette and then wants to clean up to sound “professional”. Well, Grant has re-engineered the organ, the strat going into the practice Fender, the beach towel in the bass drum and the ping pong table folded up on the far side to get that sound.
"You’re the reflection of the moon" nails it. Just fucking nails it. Its 1968 and you’ve just been listening to the Doors and Satanic Majesty’s and you’re itching to play. However, is there more irony that my sitting here saying how perfectly this recording nails that vintage sound? "You’re the reflection of the moon on the water/but you’re not the moon/you are the scent of the sea on the night wind/but you’re not the sea." Yes, this is the sound of the song from 1968, but you’re not the song from 1968. Who care? ? and the Mysterions are somewhere smiling. Turn it up.
"Barbara" gives us a dose of Beach Boys via England and Carnaby Street. The simple piano riff and gentle snare/timpani playing might even have more classic Who to it that Grant wants to admit. "Barbara is naughty/and I’m punished for her actions" sing the lyrics, and the fluegel horn sells home the homage/parody. Which is it? Does it matter? I’m still not sure that this wasn’t recorded on a vintage cassette deck and then just dumped to CD.
For all the lack of huge commercial success, Husker Du always had a serious commitment to the music and the stylistic whoring here isn’t pandering in the slightest. Its compliments paid of the highest order. While I’ve not an single idea what "Charles Hollis Jones" is about (perhaps he’s one of those eccentric English odd balls that Ray Davies and Pete Townsend were writing about) , the rising and cascading organ that soon has the fuzz-drenched, out of phase guitar and pounding drums riding along with it is a great blast from the past. The vocals are buried down and to the left and serve, mostly, to get the band to start jamming along. Later on, "Sailer Jack" is patently a sequel to the Who’s "Happy Jack" and masturbating pornographer of "Pictures of Lily". It doesn’t take too long to figure out the Grant has played Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy enough times to take it to heart. "Hollis Jones" is 4:23 of pure rock n’ roll, "Sailor Jack" is 3:59 of post-Who fun.
They count this one in but after the furious rock of the first couple tracks, "Schoolbuses Are For Children" plays it quiet and dips its toes into XTC weirdness. Played with all the earnestness in the world, the song swings from airplanes falling from the sky to who is a better Jew than another Jew. "Reach your hand across the aisle" goes the lyric, but it’s the keyboards that have echo we’ve not heard since mid-period Pink Floyd, and it’s completely at odds with the fact that the drums are still stuck in the garage sonically. It’s a nice track if you’re not listening to a damn word being said.
"California Zephyr" name checks the San Francisco’s Bay Area with an insider’s love. California is the story of a love story, perhaps the whole generation’s love affair with California, of one man’s coming to San Francisco and finding both life and death. How is it that such complex subjects can be played within pop songs? Here there is no doubt about the vocals: the lyrics are up front and center, the guitar driving the song and the rest of the band playing back but with fury.
How about closing the album with a torch song? "Knew All About You Since Then" isn’t the final track but it probably should be. Coded in black and white, with the film grain showing is a short but sweet noir love story that can only end coldly: with a cigarette flicked into the gutter and the storyteller sauntering off into the dark streets, collar pulled up against the night.
"My Regrets" closes the album proper and is pure classic Bowie and the Spiders. Not hard to imagine Mick Ronson on this track, but the drums are far more furious than David had back in the day. The vocals are a spectacular evocation of the 1970’s glam period, one that would surface and survive in the camp form with Rock Horror Picture Show’s music. No need to throw toast when this album is over however, we’re spared the sight of Tim Curry ruining his make up since we can flip the vinyl back over to "Reflection of the Moon on the Water" whenever we want to. Roll another one and start it up again.
Reviewed with his platforms on – the fearless rock iguana
Buy here: Hot Wax