By the late ‘90s the Royal Trux wound up back on Drag City, the same indie label on which they had begun the decade. After Virgin Records signed them to an extremely artist-friendly major label deal (thanks to being named checked by Nirvana and Sonic Youth as influences), the band did actually refine its sound a bit. 1995’s Thank You leaned more toward classic rock and jam band sensibilities and its follow up Sweet Sixteen included cinematic strings and righteous guitar solos. By the time the Trux recorded 1998’s high water mark, Accelerator on Virgin Record’s dime, the label opted not to release it and pretty much paid them to go away. Accelerator may very well be the best Royal Trux album (besides 1993’s Cats and Dogs), and because of this, Veterans of Disorder, which was the band’s follow-up, tends to be unfairly overlooked and underrated. However, Veterans of Disorder is every bit as essential for Trux fans as Accelerator.
With Veterans of Disorder, the Trux continued to touch on the many different aspects of their sound, betraying a maturity in both arrangements and production that continued to poke through the band’s essential weirdness. By this point, the Trux were a long way from the meandering, lo-fi, free form jams of their early records. “Stop” is a piano ballad in the vein of White Album-era Paul McCartney, followed by the Clash-esque raga of “The Exception”. “Second Skin” is driving pop rock, complete with a memorable guitar line, rolling drums, and cowbell. The song manages to be catchy without any sort of cliché big chorus. “Witch’s Tit” recalls Houses of the Holy-era Zeppelin, with a droning organ, big Bonham-esque drums, and a guitar riff straight out of Jimmy Page’s play book. Despite jumping around in sound and style, the album still works as a whole.
The first half of Veterans of Disorder is as straight to the point as the Trux ever got, with each song hovering around the two minute mark. It isn’t until the last three songs of the album that the band really starts to stretch out but the results aren’t as inspired as the first half of the album. “Coming Out Party” is a druggy, Middle Eastern tinged party of a song that sounds like two different bands playing along at the same time and yet somehow creating a racket that kind of works together. The song teeters on complete chaos without ever quite falling completely in to it as it bounces along.
In many ways Veterans of Disorder is the Trux more streamlined version of seminal albums like the Clash’s London Calling or the Beatles’ White Album because with each song the band hits on a different aspect of its sound. “The Exception” and “Lunch Money” raga as well as the Clash at their best. Meanwhile, “Sickazz Dog” is the Trux getting their “Revolution 9” on, replacing collage experimentation with strange instrumental passages that run right in to each other. “Sickazz Dog” can be interesting and some parts sound similar to Piper At the Gates of Dawn-era Pink Floyd but it mostly feels like experimentation merely for the sake of experimentation instead of in service of making a good song as interesting and weird as possible. This type of thing would work better on a longer album but since Veterans of Disorder is a lean ten songs; the Trux would’ve been better served to work out a genuine song here instead.
“Blue is the Frequency” closes out the album as a quick jazz-inflected relaxation exercise that builds in to an epic guitar solo that sprawls and lurches forward in a similar manner to the band’s early-90s work but with much improved chops. Like much of the Trux’s best music, Veterans of Disorder sits halfway between emulation and complete deconstruction of classic rock. The album is just as weird as anything the Trux had done before, taking their natural apt for melodic songwriting and typical rock instrumentation and shaking things up, making the songs as atypical as possible. Royal Trux are an era defining band and belong in the same ‘90s indie rock lineage as bands like Pavement, Guided By Voices, and Archers of Loaf.