Royal Trux draws inspiration from Stones, blues rock
Virgin Records.By Scott Deskin
The major-label debut of Royal Trux isn't simply another underground band breaking through to an open-armed mainstream. Instead, Royal Trux is content to wallow in its own murky glory, and on Thank You, the band lovingly executes its blues-rock riffs and, at the same time, isn't afraid to display its musical influences in its own songs. Thanks to a resurgence in the popularity of 1970s bands, more bands are willing to step forward and claim their FM-radio rock roots.
The band draws inspiration most notably from the Rolling Stones: Ragged-voiced Jennifer Herrema previously covered the Stones' Exile on Main Street album with her former band Pussy Galore. The band works efficiently to consolidate the gains of early '70s Stones while throwing some Lynyrd Skynyrd and perhaps even Neil Young into the mix. It should then not be terribly surprising that Young's album producer, David Briggs, brings his expertise into the studio for this album. The rhythm section is solid and persistent like Young's backing group Crazy Horse, yet it retains some of the gloss that recalls the Stones and nicely complements Neil Hagerty's grunge-influenced, post-Keith Richards guitar work.
The tuneful hooks that permeate the album are constant. The distinctive, rapid-fire drums of "The Sewers of Mars" combine with urgent lyrics that mesh with the ascending guitar riffs of the refrain. "Ray O Vac" slows things down a bit, with the lyrics only slightly less indecipherable than before: "Gotta build your rock on the Ray O Vac" in the song's refrain is oddly enjoyable. "Map of the City" and the bass-driven "Granny Grunt" are subdued exorcisms of love and disaffection.
If the songs on the first half of the album hook the listener, the second half drives the mission of Royal Trux home. "You're Gonna Lose" typifies the alienation and indecision associated with living and "leaving behind childish things."
The final track, "Shadow of the Wasp," is a minor departure from the rest of the album in terms of sheer feel: It initially sounds like a murky version of a Black Crowes' ballad, but before the album draws to a close, Herrema's voice and Hagerty's voice clash once again to leave an impression of a band refusing to go down without a fight. Herrema intones in that last song the phrase "trying to get hooked on a feeling" (from an older song of the same name), as if neither the medium nor the message of grunge-like rock has changed very much in the past 20 years.
As much as I've mentioned the individual songs here, I'd be lying if I said that there were any that were totally memorable with respect to a popular music vein: The songs aren't meant to be sing-alongs. The real pleasures are to be found in the music, which itself is a clever recycling of rock, blues, and funk - it's best to sit back and let the music carry you in its retrospective groove. Unlike the Black Crowes, whose last album Amorica seemed to have sunk under its own self-consciousness of the same tradition, Royal Trux isn't hampered by commercial loyalties or bygone popularity.
Some may find Royal Trux a bit grating and discomforting, but that may be part of the band's goal. From a Virgin Records press release, Hagerty said that "if we get bad reviews now, I think that's great. Grand Funk [a prominent '70s arena-rock band] use to get dumped on, and we hope to write songs that mean as much to people as theirs did."
For those seeking any signs of life from the indie-rock scene, Royal Trux and their contemporaries offer a proud, unposed, and straightforward product that won't disappoint.