Ok, I’m gonna get all DEEP on you. But the question I’m going to ask is rhetorical. If music is very SIMILAR to other music, thereby theoretically entailing less effort expended in making it, does this make it more purposeful, or more desultory?
This being said, I didn’t even realize you COULD write a guitar riff that was like an amalgamated ripoff of both “Kashmir” and “Back in Black” at once. Enter “Crossing Lines,” the second track off Pantera bassist Rex Brown’s lil’ pocket-power debut LP.
This is sort of random, but five years ago this fall is when I first got a Pantera album, ever — Far Beyond Driven (I was 29 at the time). I found it pretty good except of course for that whole “smackin’ her a**” interlude part as well as the “We’re fu**in’ you back” part at the end of the otherwise excellent, heterogenous “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills.”
Now, the songs on Smoke on This… definitely aren’t HETEROGENEOUS — think Bob Seger on, well, one more bottle of pills. But with this, along the same lines, it’s similarly less INDULGENT — along with the simpler song structures and rhythmic strategies comes a certain class, a raspy, seen-it-all type rockerdom that allows these songs to play in bars and to rock, what’s more with a certain fresh variety (“Crossing Lines” comes in overwhelmingly hat-happy juxtaposed with the more garage, gutbucket opener “Lone Rider”).
Getting along to the lyrics, here Bob Seger is every bit the reference point as ever, as “Lone Rider” seems to probably be a touring travelogue not unlike “Turn the Page” (although the here the sappy melancholy is refreshingly replaced by a Southern devil-may-care yowl, justified by that Pantera originally hails from Arlington, Texas). Is Rex Brown SCARED? Why would he be scared? Well, he’s a touring musician, and the grunge riffs on “Buried Alive” even remind me of Scott Weiland & the Wildabouts. Hmm. Well, we’re in a whole country of nervous people now, with the fourth-biggest city just drowned, and the toughest guys are probably the biggest drinkers. Check that: those most in TUNE are probably the biggest drinkers.
But music can be nervous too — that is, it can be just so voluminous and quantitative that it mocks the frenetic state of mind and lets you sink into it. Indeed, along with how the influences keep peeling off of this thing (the guitar bricolage of “Train Song” will call to mind Alice in Chains), the appeal of this music is that it’s like running on a treadmill. Nothing about the mountainous, imposing stature of these songs indicates a stasis, and at no time do they try to BE the ultimate rock and roll. It’s more like swimming a backstroke in a pool along with the greats, like Ted Leo’s line “In the midst of all of the action / We’ll maybe only there find satisfaction”. Indeed, touring, action and lack of respite are implied by much of the lyrical outplay here.
And look, I’m just gonna come out and say it: Rex Brown’s voice is AWESOME. It’s like Paul McCartney’s on “I Feel Fine.” Ok, that’s a bad example, but it’s that good, just the result of some good ol’ American Marlboro-Red chain smoking instead of the iron fist of George Martin’s 12 takes for every song, or whatever. Side B of the album slows things down, but you know how this metal stuff is — a little bit goes a long way, and sitar soiree “Get Yourself Alright” nests itself ingratiatingly amidst the louder Fender-benders here. The real victory of Smoke on This… is that he went out and GOT Lance Harvill, a state-of-the-art lead guitarist, but he recovered Smoke on This… as his own project, both in title and in spirit, thereby balancing out the simple, immediate song structures (which granted cater perfectly to American’s ebbed attention spans) with some noodling and doodling that, Christ, the average person just can’t do.