ROCK & ROLL RONIN - Jukebox Zeros (Rank Outsider Records)
Whoever said it does not pay to be dumb? Some of my favorite artists are so devoid of intelligence that I cannot help but find something to love in their enthusiastic brain-dead, meat-head, or Frat-boy sound. Some of them may not still be the best bands in the world - Circle Jerks, Black Flag, Misfits, and most other hardcore-punk and horror-punk acts - but there was always something to that sweaty sound that makes my skinny ass want to jump around the room as if it is a moshpit while listening to it.
While dead-brain cells may be sad in a human beings case, in the arts it is almost like a badge of honor, so long as the music is still fun. This is also the case of Jukebox Zeros EP album Rock & Roll Ronin: a pleasurable six-track jaunt that never slacks on its feeling of energy.
Moreover, “energy” is always what rock should be about, isn’t it? As much as I love it, I will admit that most garage-punk music sounds the same, but I tell people… that's not really the point! It is all about creating a sense of attitude, sonics, adrenaline, and oftentimes, testosterone. Although Ronin does not necessarily need the male hormonal aspect (and with their pop elements it probably would not work,) they kick out the first three with hurtling sound and humorous personality.
One can picture a mixture of a few bands when cranking it up: it has the poppiness of The Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments and keeps the sonics in tune with Rick Sims of The Didjits and the Gaza Strippers. The instrumentals are the best thing on the album. For instance, the central riff in album-opener, "1-2-3-4", that begins after the title of the song is said twice on the track, and it cuts the air so uniquely that I can not help but turn up my speakers each time I hear it.
The entire album is reliant on this instrument worship, as The Jukebox Zeros are often in garage mode with occasional elements of surf (like on “Surfin’ Armageddon“,) Buzzcocks-ethic in “Lawsuit Guitars,” and there’s even a louder cover of “Rockaria!” that was originally done by Electric Light Orchestra.
If Ronin has one major downfall, it is in the fact that the album is enjoyable, rather than memorable. This is mostly because Rock & Roll Ronin has more to do with sonics and melody than it has to do with anything else, like emotion, atmosphere, or mood. In this critic’s eye, those elements are what make an album something special, even extraordinary.
So, as much as one can enjoy it as a very good time, each listen to it will almost be the first, because nothing really stays with you. I am not sure if that is the biggest compliment, but truth be told, each time I heard it for this review I did forget my troubles for the time being. - Nick Schwab
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FOUR ON THE FLOOR - Jukebox Zeros (Steel Cage Records)
It doesn’t seem that long since the last (and first) Jukebox Zeros released appeared. The six-track EP/mini album “Welcome to Rutsville” promised a lot; the band’s debut full length album “Four on the Floor” picks up where the previous release left off. “Four on the Floor” is a very appropriate album title – there’s none of your Zappa/Beefheart temporal variations here. It’s simple, to the point, and pleasant to the ear.
After a brief introductory marching beat (snare and driving guitar), the band tears into the neo-Animal House narrative “Flophouse”, complete with Ace Frehley meets Johnny Thunders driving guitar riff, and Peter Santa Maria’s slacker drawling vocals. From there it’s quickly into the post-Ramones punk pop excitement of “Yeah You” (the subject of the song is as time honoured as any of the basic riffs; some new girl strides into view, she thinks she going to rule the town etc etc ... but who’s really interested in a complex story line, anyway).
“Channel 48” is an astute analysis of the vacuous value of subscription (pay) television; no matter how many hundreds of channels you’re hooked up to watch, you’re still stuck watching re-runs of crap '70s and '80s TV shows (when I first encountered cable in the US in the early 1990s I found that at any one time I could find at least two Andy Griffith programs to watch – if there was every a programming metaphor for the cultural merit of cable TV, it was that). In the midst of its rant the band manages to drop in a reference to Hawaii Five-O (“Steve and Danno on my screen”), which should please all the Birdman fans on the planet – and the reference to “TV Eye” could a post-modernist comment, given the evolution of that classic term to describe watching television, from its Kathy Asheton-conceived origins as a shorthand description of leering male behaviour.
“Hurry Up and Wait” returns to the boogie-woogie rock feel of the band’s earlier mini-album, still doused heavily in the New York Dolls good ol’ boys rock aesthetic; “Film Noir Love” attempts to create a mood with its opening 50s noir film moment before changing tack to the straight rock feel the band does so well. “Don’t Tell Me” reminded me a lot of the hard edged indie pub rock of The Hitmen and The Screaming Tribesmen – though the organ flourish on this track was never (to my knowledge) seen in inner city Sydney venues in the 1980s. And full marks to Santa Maria for the line “Your father wears dresses/Your mother’s got a cock” – which could well become a witty line to shout at the next big sporting event I find myself at (though given the anal retention of today’s security staff, I doubt I’d be permitted to stay after uttering the line).
“Fun Suck”, co-written with Thee Minks’ Liz Lixx (and features Lixx and fellow Mink Hope Diamond on backing vocals) is a juvenile – and amusing, for its high school quality criticisms – critique of someone whose only contribution to the community is to bring the mood down. “Death of the Drive-In” is restrained, possibly an emotional lament for the increasing scarcity of drive-ins at which to hang out and enjoy one’s self. The album concludes with a cover of the Dead Boys’ “High Tension Wire”, again featuring Liz Lixx and Hope Diamond on backing vocals.
Rock’n’roll is notorious for its musical simplicity yet it’s that same simplicity that lies at the heart of the primitive attraction of the genre. Jukebox Zeros understand that paradox, and how to exploit the artistic tension between derivation and exploration for maximum effect. Hopefully the band’s next offering will be on our shores very soon – and maybe the band will find its way to Australia as well. - Patrick Emery
WELCOME TO RUTSVILLE - Jukebox Zeroes (Do Not Use Records)
Philadelphian band The Jukebox Zeroes play good time rock’n’roll that’s definitely in the best New York Dolls tradition. Listening to these guys and you understand what’s beneficial about rock that cuts to the chase and concentrates on the critical elements in a good rock song. “Welcome to Ruttsville” is a highly enjoyable six song EP that’s all about rock’n’roll enjoyment and nothing about artistic pretension.
“Static,Static” is full of the best rock ingredients – meaty guitar riffs, spicey lead breaks sprinkled with tasty piano and served with a vocal style that thankfully doesn’t grate or growl for effect. The dominant riff on“Stutterstop” could tame a crowd at 30 paces and invokes the st-st-st-stuttering tradition that’s hopefully less offensive than when The Who used it 40 years ago (and got banned for doing so).
“Rutsville” – presumably a tale of Everyshittytown USA – charges into action with an attitude that The Celibate Rifles could respect, the lyrics (“got a one way ticket to nowhere”) a nihilistic narrative of the need to get the fuck out of dodge. The underlying theme of “[You’re So] Emotional” would lend itself to critical examination by any feminist pop cultural studies academic; the song itself has the stripped back aesthetic of early Kiss that lends itself to being played loud in confined spaces in moments of (male) emotional turmoil.
“S.O.S” – I’m not sure if this song title ties in with a general “get us the fuck of this shit hole” theme permeating the CD – has plenty of plundering 70s guitar and woo-hoo-hooing that the Dolls could pull off perfectly, but the denim clad brigade of the mid-to-late 1970s (Quo et al) injected with a nasty stench. The Zeroes’ take on it is good time stuff, but not dumb time shit.
The final song is a cover of the Iggy/James Williamson “Kill City”, done well enough to illustrate enough of the brilliance of the original, but without either creating a mutant version or (well worse still) a wafer thin cover. Production notes state that the “girl gang backup vocals” are contributed by Liz Lixx and Hope Diamond from Thee Minks.
For their sake, I hope The Jukebox Zeroes get out of Rutsville. They’ll find a very enthusiastic audience in rock’n’roll civillisation. - Patrick Emery
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