The disc starts with a percussive knocking, a wild and woolly guitar line, and Jon Spencer’s inimitable moan. “Oaowoawh….too much?” he inquires, before lapsing into a maniacal cackle, and indeed that’s the question of the day. If excess bothers you, if theatricality seems false, if you want everything to be straightforward and well within the lines, you are not going to like the second Heavy Trash album very much. You have to be willing to go out, way out, with this Spencer and Matt Verta-Ray concoction, because the weird parts are where it really takes hold.
The original Heavy Trash album was a minimalist sort of affair, just guitars, string bass, sparse thuds and stick-rhythmed percussion, and rebel yells, hewing fairly closely to its Charlie Feathers-ish historical inspiration. However, there were signs even there that Spencer and Verta-Ray were impatient with historical accuracy, as the disc veered off into Stones-y blues and country laments past its mid-section. Going Way Out is even less tied to rockabilly tradition and considerably less restrained, because it is backed by Toronto’s Sadies, perhaps the best-kept secret in roots rock. I spoke to Spencer last year when he guested on the Sadies live album, and asked him (by email) about choosing the Sadies as his backing band. He said, “The first time Matt and I played with the Sadies it was so exciting, just felt great from the git-go. Sounded wonderful, like a powerful jet airplane.” (Or perhaps the outsized locomotive on the album cover).
So perhaps because of the addition of the Good brothers, and equally possibly because of boredom or pure orneriness, Going Way Out is a far more diverse and layered album than its predecessor. It has a real drum kit behind its grooves, four fantastic guitar players, a keyboardist and a sense of camaraderie and joy that is about three steps down from a barfight. Just listen to the way that “Double Line” takes off, with its twitchy, almost subliminal wah wah line and pounding jungle drums, and you know everything you need to know about the uses of excess and restraint. “They Were Kings”, with its crazy garage rock organ and frenetic early rocker guitars, is a boot-stomping, tobacco-spitting hoot. It’s so much fun that Spencer can’t get the band to stop playing it. After ending the song at least twice, the band comes right back with a “They were kings, Motherfucker”, and launches the song into orbit again. And “She Baby” rocks back on its heels, sucking its teeth and smirking most of the song, but explodes at the choruses into a drum-slamming celebration of sexual (and musical) debauchery.
Then there is the weird stuff, the songs that are so hallucinatorily out there that you can’t believe they’re happening the first couple of times through. The best of these is the closer, “You Can’t Win”, with Spencer groaning nostalgia for pomade and potted meat and Peggy Sue to a slack-limbed, past-midnight blues vamp that works on you like a double shot of whiskey. “Welcome to the Shrek room”, Spencer begins, in what must have initially been parody, his voice fed through distorters and sped and slowed monstrously. Yet what begins as a send-up transforms itself into a nightmarish poetry about “bizarre rituals to power the powerful” and “the octabeast rights tonight” and “trading everything for money…but our pockets are empty”. It’s too much, for sure, but sometimes too much is just about right.
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// Notes from the Road
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