Line Out Music & the City at Night

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Another Year with Royal Trux

Posted by on Thu, Dec 27, 2012 at 9:04 AM

Photo by Patsy Desmond
  • Drag City
  • Photo by Patsy Desmond
Royal Trux
(Drag City)

"This album is really cool and it will annoy your friends."
—Amazon customer review

I became an instant convert to the scrappy cult of Royal Trux when they first emerged in the late-1980s. It was a natural extension of my interest in Pussy Galore, since singer-guitarist Neil Michael Hagerty (Weird War, Howling Hex) had been part of that NYC-by-way-of-Washington DC outfit, although they didn't sound much alike; there was just a similar sensibility at work.

After buying their first few records, I lost touch with the duo. It had more to do with me than them as there was a lot going on in my life at the time, and I wasn't able to keep up with new music the way I once did, but I'm now catching up, both with the group and their solo efforts (this year, that included Jennifer Herrema's Black Bananas project). This preamble means to explain why I didn't hear 1998's Accelerator until Drag City reissued it a few months ago.

Long story short: I love it. And I'm sure I would've loved it in 1998 as my taste hasn't changed much since then, though I don't recall much buzz surrounding the record, unlike the two-LP Twin Infinitives, which inspired a cult all its own.

A friend of mine describes Accelerator as Royal Trux's Some Girls, and he isn't kidding, since it shares the same sort of gleefully sleazy feel—albeit on a comparatively low-budget scale. Then again, Pussy Galore once covered the entirety of Exile on Main Street, so 'Stones love runs deep with this crowd.

I'm not aware that there's an over-arching theme to the album. It's just Hagerty and Herrema playing their own unique brand of the blues: spoken and shouted vocals, fuzzed-out guitars, and a mood that turns on a dime from celebratory ("I'm Ready") to wistful ("Yellow Kid"). There are also excursions into rattletrap psych with "Another Year" and bubble-glam with "Juicy, Juicy, Juice" and "The Banana Question," which add layers of grime to glitter-rock. Mostly: it's a lot of fun.

But if it was just a lot of fun, that wouldn't be enough. Just as "Waiting on a Friend" takes the slow-song spotlight on the Stones' Tattoo You, "Stevie (for Steven S.)" serves a similar purpose here, except it's a superior song. Not because the melody is more memorable—it isn't—but because Hagerty opens his heart in a way Mick Jagger never could*, particularly on "Friend" where the latter sounds sarcastic when he pronounces lady "lay-dee." It's as if the word frightens him.

* Not bad for a track that takes inspiration from the famously inexpressive Steven Seagal.

Granted, I don't look to the Stones for tenderness and vulnerability, and I wouldn't normally ascribe those qualities to Trux either, except "Stevie" fits the bill. And though I have a higher tolerance for Herrema's squall than most, she couldn't pull it off as gracefully—and I haven't even mentioned Hagerty's lovely guitar work.

In that sense, she and Neil always seemed more like a street-level version of Marianne Faithfull and Keith Richards (in this scenario, I'm suggesting Hagerty as Faithfull). And for what it's worth, Marianne admits, in her fine biography Faithfull, that she once slept with Richards. Her conclusion: it was fabulous.

Drag City plans to reissue Trux's 1999 follow-up, Veterans of Disorder, sometime in 2013. In addition, they'll be releasing The Best of Howling Hex on Feb 19.


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