Local H: Pack Up the Cats

Local H
Pack Up the Cats
Island

DOESN'T ANYONE KNOW how to service a market niche anymore? Ever since "alternative" radio tempered the metal edge, an unserved adolescent mass has stood at attention, wallets held aloft, awaiting the arrival of late-'90s hard-rock salvation. Enter well-meaning but querulous small-town guy Scott Lucas, front man for alt-rock hopefuls Local H. With his sullen temperament, effortless on-key scream, and penchant for ready-made guitar anthems like "All the Kids Are Right," he's perfectly poised to instigate this latent teenage riot.

Sadly, he's too smart for the job. The best anthem on his band's new record commends discerning youth for walking out of his own lame live show. ("You won't wear our T-shirts now," he laments in "All the Kids.") The pimpled minions stand ready to pledge fealty to any warlord who will pronounce them Nietzschean supermen marching to Valhalla. And what do they get? A song about prudent consumption and a concept album about the inconveniences of touring when you own pets.

Which is good news for us post-postadolescents. Not only does Lucas distrust the buzz he gets from plugging himself into his Marshall stack, but his hollered frustrations are too homely for metal kids who want to see their alienation writ large in the block-letter poetry of their idols. Whether leading off a song with the ranted line, "It's only stupid me," or taking his time, ponderously considering his girlfriend's request that he get a steady job, Lucas's self-deprecation never masquerades as egotism. He's just a guy whose record contract hasn't remedied the nagging self-esteem issues left over from quitting his high school cross-country team.

But antihero worshipers beware: He isn't that depressed, either--he just writes 'em that way. The disc's real sure shot, "Fine and Good," betrays his sense of self-worth, even if it does come across more like an admission than a proclamation. And if the song's smartly placed minor-key shifts make it suitably ironic for listeners predisposed to construing contentment as inherently stupid, that's their problem, not Scott's.

Producer Roy Thomas Baker, who's hot-wired studio automatons from Queen to the Cars, would probably turn every cheap trick in the book to blast this bombast radioward. But Lucas, who liked the primacy of grunge but mistrusted its sloppy execution, is a hard-rock purist. He wants to be corny about as much as he wants to tour behind Korn. Still, Baker bleaches the bones of Lucas's compulsively ascending and descending riffs until they're bright as Saturday night, neatly places every squall into its proper sonic context, and corrals the herky-jerky interplay between Lucas and drummer Joe Daniels into a precise lockstep. The result is overdriven rock without delusions of grandeur. Pack Up the Cats is proof that high-voltage power needn't corrupt--at least not absolutely.

 
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