Zulu Spelled Backward
Photo courtesy Blueghost PublicityAn interesting moment passed at last month's groundbreaking ceremony for the new Alamitos Bay solid-waste-transfer unit, although you had to be observant to catch it. Flanked by Maria and armed with a (presumably painted) gold shovel, Governor Ahnold was at one point asked by a stray cub reporter how it felt to go from being the world's greatest action star to, essentially, chief shit scooper at a sewage plant: "At my age," the governator beamed with obvious and unscripted relief, "it's great just to be working."
I thought of this moment recently when faced with reviewing Zulu, the debut CD by Los Angeles art-thrash band Wrangler Brutes. Olympia's zeitgeist-riding Kill Rock Stars label supposedly ponied up $14,000 for the band to record at Steve Albini's Electric Audio Studios in Chicago, and no lesser a patron saint than original Black Flag vocalist Keith Morris even deigned to sing a song. A small sticker on the shrink wrap alerts the purchaser that the cover art depicts a skinhead, a flying shirt and an eagle attacking a terrified dog, as if we mere civilians were too dumb to figure this out by just looking at the cover itself. The nod to the obvious seems to be the Brutes' forte. Subtle they ain't.
Which makes Zulu something of a Bonfire of the Vanities for the skank pit crowd. It is the kind of flaming public failure that exposes flaws in an entire medium. With the pedigreed lineage these guys have to shoulder, this record should sizzle. Members of the mighty Born Against, Monorchid, Universal Order of Armageddon (UOA), Nazti Skins and Men's Recovery Project grace this band. But it just wasn't meant to be. Ex-UOA drummer Brooks Headley's once-vicious three-course, five-star skinsmanship seems here to have settled into a less palatable taco-cart brand of snackery (sadly fitting for this drummer-turned-chef-lapsed-into-drummer-again). Andy Coronado's repugnantly indulgent guitar abuse (think Geever Wallas meets the Butler Boys . . . no, wait, don't), relegated to background drone on Monorchid and Skull Kontrol outings, here takes a turn for the criminal (fledgling bassist Cundo Murad, late of Nazti Skins, stands acquitted; his flabby oompah-oompah bass licks are at least serviceable in keeping time from song to song).
The real betrayal belongs to vocalist Sam McPheeters. Pushing middle age, this former Born Against/Men's Recovery Project front man sounds less like the righteous siren of the early 1990s than an angry dad bellyaching about his latest Verizon bill. McPheeters' lyrical powers, once a template for sarcastic brevity, have metastasized into eight hand-scrabbled pages of unfunny posturing that read like the fine print of a Vioxx prescription. When he squeals about not wearing underwear in public, it is not so much yawn-inducing as it is baffling. What does it say about someone who has spent more than 10 years talking about something he "doesn't care about"? Is it implying he really does and he's just being coy—or he doesn't have anything else to say?
Either way, it is the most shameless scam. Having latched onto the much-younger burgeoning Los Angeles Smellcore scene (Wives, Mika Miko, 400 Blows), the Brutes seem to be attempting a Ponce de Len switcheroo. It's as if, having crossed into the world of mortgage payments and Little League schedules, they still clutch mournfully at their faded tour laminates. A band whose combined age is more than 150 shouldn't be making music for high-school sophomores.
Shouldn't Albini have fixed this? Granted, the man's Midas Touch remains one of the most overhyped musical myths of the 21st Century. But the former Big Blackster's fine-tuning of certain choice LPs (In Utero, of course, and 1991's vastly underrated Unconsciousness LP by—no, really!—Beantown bruisers Slapshot) makes one wonder at what price Zulu might've been salvaged: $15,000, maybe $150,000?
It didn't have to be like this. Not all fading entertainers keep smacking their heads against the wall of youth. Successful segues can happen. Tina Turner is a thriving magazine publisher. Glenn Danzig does Merrill Lynch voice-overs. And Schwarzenegger, at 57 a wash-up in the world of action movies, is just a spring chicken on the stage of national politics. Might there be a lesson here?
WRANGLER BRUTES WITH SOME GIRLS AND THE OATH AT CHAIN REACTION, 1652 W. LINCOLN AVE, ANAHEIM, (714) 635-6067. NOV. 21, 8 P.M. $10. ALL AGES.
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