A Short Rhetoric on Troglodyte Rock

NOW THAT EMINEM, Everlast, and Kid Rock have updated Elvis's blueprint for musical miscegenation, hip hop seems ready to entirely supplant troglodyte rock as the soundtrack of choice for the white working class. But t-rock, or whatever you want to call it--hard rock, arena rock, "real" rock, headbangers' music--has proven to be resilient stuff. Three generations of pop critics (most of them white, male, and loath to admit they were raised on the Who, Judas Priest, or Megadeth) have opined that funk, or disco, or reggae (!), or punk, or something would eventually snap the masses out of their t-rock fixation. But not so far. Most recently, grunge and "alt rock" have come and gone, while trog-rock keeps tapping into our pleasure centers with a tactile immediacy only a bastard offspring of the blues could manage. Swelled by sonic elephantiasis and a thunderous assault of guitar riffs, the sound is at once thudding and spry, like a bowling ball and a medicine ball rolling down a long flight of stairs.

But you already knew that. Hip hop's seeming ubiquity notwithstanding, troglodyte rock is the music we consume without a second thought, like diner coffee, 87-octane gasoline, and victimless crime. It's enjoyed and deployed mostly by disaffected white guys who are usually suspicious of sophistication, blue-collar hell raisers with more than just a six-stringed ax to grind. No matter how multiculti we become (and perhaps because we are becoming so multiculti), there will always be plenty of rockers who fit this profile.

Not that there isn't room for variation. The two best rookie troglodyte ensembles of the year (so far) come at the genre from different directions. Honky Toast's Whatcha Gonna Do Honky? (Epic) may well be a high-concept put-on, but the band puts over its peckerhead shtick by tearing through Troglodyte 101, 202, and 303. That is to say, their song chunks rip off not only the Stones and Aerosmith, but X and Guns N' Roses with some Black Flag-hits-the-roadhouse-for-a-Pabst thrown in for bad measure. The song titles--"Alcoholic Mama," "I Wanna Be on Welfare," and "Hair in My Teeth Again"--nicely sum up the slumming.

Yet perhaps the band prefers being a concept: The sleeve art is all trailer-trash caricatures (no photos), and the band members use aliases like EZ Bake and Eric J. Toast. They hail from New York's East Village. (Although I have no proof, Eric sounds an awful lot like David Johansen, the NYC singer whose history includes the New York Dolls and a stint as Buster Poindexter.) On the back of the CD jacket, the band apologizes to anyone it may offend, which either neatly caps the ruse, or, if serious, makes Honky Toast one of the year's most perversely pathetic groups.

By contrast, Buckcherry's self-titled debut is a no-bullshit outing that emerges fully formed from the troglodyte tar pits. The album is a head-nodding blend of Southern-fermented Stones sour mash and L.A. dystopian hair-metal; they're the Black Crowes with a broken muffler and Angus Young in the sidecar. On "Lit Up," singer Joshua Todd bellows the chorus, "I love the cocaine," with a bloody-nosed fervor that scorches any narrative middle ground. "Check Your Head" bashes candy-assed whiners with as much sarcasm under its fingernails as mechanics have grease. And the catchy "Get Back" jams the trusty wah-wah pedal straight through the windshield of the Camaro. Even after signing a deal with the suits from DreamWorks, the quintet continued wearing out a path of two-bit clubs from North Carolina to Florida and back--the troglodyte's pilgrimage to Mecca. Hold a lighter up for them on their (inevitable) trip through town, and pity any other band on the bill.

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