Several albums into a young, post-Royal Trux solo career, Neil Michael Hagerty bashed out an indigent mess of a solo album entitled -- wait for it -- Neil Michael Hagerty & The Howling Hex. The disc is a long, winding road along a sheer cliff face, stuffed so full of raw firecracker live takes and crooked fake Stones and downer laments and blues-y vamps and oddly bent, nerve-probing ditties that its 21 tracks can be hard to stomach in a single sitting. Unless you're a twisted Baby Boomer or a Drag City-fellating nerd, the album won't strike you as especially, well, commercial, which means that whoever decided that "Car Commercial" was fair game for inclusion in the most recent series of Ford car commercials is either a twisted Baby Boomer or a Drag City-fellating nerd.
"Car Commercial" is not necessarily a crowd-pleasing, we're-all-alright kinda song; "Car Commercial" is downright ornery, totally perverse.
"Car Commercial" enters with a hook and does not let go of that hook for four solid minutes. Pete Denton's drums gut-punch base-level intro sets the pace, then we're off to the races, with Hagerty unfurling a naggingly teasing guitar figure over and over again -- you can almost sense it goading you, can't you, like nah-nah-nah-nah, nah nah nah NAH -- while Matt Bauder does double duty on baritone and tenor saxes, the latter trying to keep pace with the guitar, sorta, while the former simulates a busted tuba at the bottom of the mix.
Hagerty's vocals come off as disconnected doggerel until you really start to listen, and recognize that he's singing about the awkwardness of television commercials as a medium, the scripts and scenarios that aim to capture a naturalistic moment in a form that is unabashedly artificial. "Dancing is easy," he councils, quavering ever so slightly. "Follow the marks." The lyric "I think I'm going to laugh" surfaces at least twice, implying stage fright; a reference to grinding gears, just once. Just prior to the halfway mark, when the band is on the verge of giving up on lingual presentation, they smirk at Sunday motorists: "I've got a hand on my neck, and a busted chain/Think I'll go out for an hour or a day."
By this point, the guitars are getting awfully antsy, their fried, twanging lines smeared and tangled, and the saxes are mixing it up like cat-nip flushed tabbies in heat, all the while maintaining that persistent, jerked-hinge pulse that's been there all along, and for two minutes the Howling Hex just locks in on that pulse, piling up the improvisory noise in the background like a country jamboree that wants to go entirely haywire but never quite manages to, with that central hook fed out to us like a too-generous stranger plying tots with more and more Smarties and top-grade cocaine -- you think, "my God, this is too good, and it's not stopping, it will never stop, this riff and I will be one forever, and until the end of time itself" - and then it's all just over without any ceremony, out of gas, stalled, stranded in the middle of nowhere.
The worst part? I can't find a stream or mp3 or Youtube video of this anywhere. So you'll just have to buy the album; you can thank me later.