A totemic example of greatness in the American rock underground.
Noel Gardner 2011-01-07
Although each half of the Royal Trux duo have continued to release a fair body of music since separating 11 years ago, much of it as bewildering and gnarly as what they squeezed out together, this album comes from a starkly different era, in a sense. Cats and Dogs, the fourth Royal Trux album, was released in 1993 – not only to rock-press acclaim, but the interest of Virgin Records, who (albeit misguidedly) made them a major-label act shortly afterwards. Several years before Domino would be bankrolled by Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, this was nonetheless an era when independent labels could stay afloat with releases this difficult and untethered.
One of four Royal Trux opuses reissued by Domino in January 2011, Cats and Dogs will likely prove an easier entry point than the freeform reading of Captain Beefheart blues on their self-titled debut (1988); the lengthy and unhinged Twin Infinitives (1990); or the dopesick fuzz’n’jangle of Untitled (1992). That is to say, it’s a mess, but a purposeful one. The roots of Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema – who were the band, essentially, although they recorded as a quartet here for the first time – lie partly in oldies-station American boogie and hard rock: Creedence, ZZ Top or Neil Young. Yet the off-the-beat, dishevelled rhythms clue you in to their jones for free jazz and other avant-garde concerns. (The dishevelment, you’d imagine, also stemmed from their infamous heroin habits at the time.)
The Spectre, powered by Herrema’s skittery percussion, the wah pedal-soaked Skywood Greenback Mantra and the glitter-monster riff of Hot and Cold Skulls push Royal Trux further into the realm of the anthemic than ever before. Up the Sleeve could almost be a lost demo for Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album, recorded in the grottiest rehearsal space with trashed gear and a head cold. Driving in That Car (With the Eagle on the Hood) isn’t just a pretty title, being akin to a female-fronted redux of late-60s space-music crazies Silver Apples. As much as Royal Trux are a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an oily rag, they are a totemic example of greatness in the American rock underground.