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Royal Trux and Demolition Doll Rods

By Carly Carioli

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  It's taken more than a decade, but Royal Trux have finally gotten around to writing a couple of songs. A small feat, perhaps, but till now there's been no reason to believe they'd ever bother. When Pussy Galore broke up, at the dawn of the '90s, Ivy Leaguer Jon Spencer absconded with what little name recognition the band had cultivated. He might've talked the trash-blues talk, but he made the savvy move of recasting PG's shattered squawk as a well-oiled rock-and-roll machine. Meanwhile, it's been left to Neil Haggerty, along with his sexpot junk-fashion foil, Jennifer Herrema, to walk that slummy Lower East Side walk, championing the paranoid hipster delusion of art-noise-as-garage-rock. In the Trux's universe, you could rest assured that actual songs would always take a back seat to semiotic textural detail; that character -- the illusion of a pharmaceutically debauched, romantically doomed duo -- would triumph over narrative cohesion; that the band would make a noise that was more about music than music for its own sake.

Sure, there's been a creative arc of sorts that's seen the Trux get more and less impenetrable. But more often than not they've fashioned a kind of performance-art rock criticism, as opposed to anything you'd care to listen to. So they've certainly earned the title of the new Veterans of Disorder (Drag City). This one opens with precisely the kind of cheap thrills for which Royal Trux have always seemingly considered themselves too (un)refined. On "Waterpark," Haggerty grabs the New York Dolls by the balls and takes 'em for a Coney Island joyride -- a deft, unironic jolt of vintage punk. Herrema works her baby-doll slur -- Carol Channing on 'ludes -- and the whole thing sounds so playful and naive that you've gotta wonder whether the Donnas aren't back there somewhere pulling the strings. Then Haggerty turns around and delivers "Stop" -- a fabulously low-rent version of one of those old cold-water-flat ballads the Stones used to do so well -- in a sour, cracking falsetto, with weepy slide guitar swelling up out of a delicately arranged, piano-plunked twilight. Two songs and they've written the bookends of the career that might've been.

There are three more good songs on Disorder: a well-researched Stax/Voltish R&B novelty tune and a pair of crypt-crawling, graveyard-garage-rock Nuggets. Soon after, they're back to their old tricks: the second half of the disc descends into a swirl of Latin-flavored art-brut, a "La Vida Loca"-lized Historia de la Música Rock. So it's a relatively short-lived epiphany. But then you look at the picture in the CD booklet of a cherry-topped pile of whipped cream in the lap of a maiden in the altogether and you wonder whether maybe Haggerty's finally figured out what Spencer realized a decade ago: you can have your Pussy and eat it too.

Truth be told, though, neither Spencer nor Royal Trux have been the axis for blues punk in quite some time. That's due in large part to the emergence in late-'80s Detroit of the Gories, a brazenly lo-fi bass-less trio who exemplified an underground rock-and-roll aesthetic that cared a lot more about the nuances of '50s chitlin'-circuit dance-craze R&B and a lot less about art. Among the myriad outfits to emerge from the aftermath of the Gories' mid-'90s break-up, the similarly bass-less Demolition Doll Rods seemed the least likely to bear much in the way of creative fruit. Comprising two sloppy beach bunnies and a sloppier guy (former Gories guitarist Dan Kroha) who dressed like a beach bunny, the Doll Rods nevertheless managed to be a decent party outfit, the kind that would show up, get ugly naked, make a mess for half an hour, and then be gone, leaving folks talking mostly about the getting-naked part.

But their second disc, the new TLA (Matador), is an instant classic of the genre. It is perhaps the tackiest album of the year, that being a function of the band's refusal to let their physical and sonic limitations get in the way of a miraculously simple hook or a laughably obscene anatomical reference. The back cover -- a schoolgirl revealing a cheat sheet inked on her cleavage -- sets the tone. On the inside we get references to a "velvet cave" and a "cream-filled velvet surprise"; we get "some squeezin' and some pleasin' for no apparent reason"; we get a three-chord masterpiece called "Sex Machine" on which co-lead singer Margaret begs for spare change in such a way that you can't tell whether she's trapped in a coin-op peep show or in a really sleazy jukebox. Even when they simply vamp on one ragged chord, Kroha's itchy Chuck Berryish leads give the songs an infectious nervous tick. On full-power soul like "U Look Good," they recall the easy familiarity and naked carnal attraction of Ike & Tina's Kent sides. And that sense of genuine rapport keeps things deliciously sweet, even at their raunchiest, which is to say Demolition Doll Rods get to have their pussy and eat it too.

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