Scott Lucas of Local H has treaded a very delicate balance for years now, not that it’s done him much good. Starting with their second record, 1996’s As Good as Dead, Lucas and original drummer Joe Daniels started making records that, more than almost any of their contemporaries, were much more than the sum of their parts. Lucas accomplished this with a very risky strategy: the concept album. Their next three albums, in fact (including 2002’s Here Comes the Zoo with new drummer Brian St. Clair), form a bit of an arc. As Good as Dead is the flipside to Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, in that the Gallaghers sang about the dreadful entropy of small town, low class living from the perspective of nascent rock stars, whereas Lucas dug deeper, rocked harder, and situated the listener right in the mind of a too-smart, self-loathing smalltown fuckup who secretly knows he’s never leaving.
But they did, kind of, and Pack Up the Cats is still one of the very few tolerable albums about the perils of trying to make it big as a band, backed with Lucas’s customary smarts, caustic wit, and omni-directional hatred of bullshit (few people are skewered as mercilessly in Local H songs as the narrator). It almost worked, too, until Local H’s label got so caught up in a merger that the album and single “All the Kids Are Right” got stranded without any real promotion. Then Daniels left. Undaunted, Lucas recruited St. Clair (ex of Triple Fast Action) and penned probably his magnum opus with Here Comes the Zoo, a practically psychotic look at what might have happened to the band from Pack Up the Cats if they’d gotten rich and famous. The album is a towering slab of heavy, hooky arrogance, curdled pride, and banal apocalypse. If it’s not the best album ever made about the perils of fame, it’s certainly the best ever made from the outside.
Throughout these albums, Lucas has certainly had justification enough for sour grapes, but between the riffs, the powerhouse drumming, the sense of humour, and the merciless refusal to keep himself and his band off of his list of targets, he’s kept Local H from being just a vehicle for bitter recriminations and shit slinging (I haven’t heard their last album, Whatever Happened to PJ Soles, and given that it’s about being washed up, I could see it going either way). Until now.
It’s weird to think that the kind of sentiment that Local H does perfectly on a song like “High-Fiving MF” (about asshole fans) or “Rock and Roll Professionals” (about asshole bands) is a bridge too far on “BMW Man” (about an asshole who is now dating your ex). Maybe it’s because while older Local H albums were directed at classes of people or types of experience, Twelve Angry Months is explicitly, deliberately, and excessively about being angry, bitter, jaded, etc, about one person. And I don’t know, maybe she was horrible, and this album is probably wonderfully cathartic if you just got your ass dumped. But the thrill of opener “The One With ‘Kid’”, wherein Lucas screams at her to give him back his records with a kind of heartrending specificity, dissipates by the time you get to “White Belt Boys” and realize that really, he’s going to be going after her all record.
Lucas is one of the most undervalued songwriters in hard rock (or indie rock, or whatever genre you want to put Local H in, really), so it’s not nearly all bad, especially on a brute sonic level. But he apparently did go through a nasty break-up himself recently, and maybe he should have waited a bit (even if he had been intending to do a break-up album for years, as he says), because there are times that his heart actually gets in the way of the tunes. “24 Hour Break-Up Session” and “Machine Shed Wrestling” are the closest the band has come to tuneless since their debut, Ham Fisted (which was). This is also the first time he’s wandered over into self pity, repeating “Not a junkie, you’re just a groupie / But only a groupie would ever wanna love me” on “Jesus Christ! Did You See the SIZE of That Sperm Whale?” until he’s just another maudlin drunk in the bar whom you wish would shut up.
From there, the albums lead into “Simple Pleas” (September, by the album’s monthly reckoning), and things improve a bit. Even in the midst of what is ultimately a pretty ugly and dispiriting album by a great band, Lucas has a keen enough grasp of tonal control to have the album’s path merge with his character’s; as time passes, both become more bearable. “Simple Pleas” is a ballad of a sorts, and it’s also the closest the album comes to the kind of implicit reflection Lucas usually provides. He probably shouldn’t be talking to her still, this far on, but at least (for practically the first time), he’s admitting how much of the problem he is. But mostly on Twelve Angry Months he backslides into anger and hate every time he tries to move forward. Which works well as one element of a balanced look at his concept (the kind he provided on As Good As Dead and Here Comes the Zoo), but that’s not what we’ve got here. It’s not until elegiac closer “Hand to Mouth” that he chooses to ache rather than bruise, and while parts of this album are thrilling in isolation, the whole thing at once is too combative, too unfair, too nasty to get too close to.
Which is why it’s hard to either love or condemn this album for me. The songs sometimes dip slightly below the absurdly high quality level Local H normally provides, yes, but most of my unease here is because it’s so painfully on target. This is, roughly, what a break-up can feel like when it goes poorly, and nearly all of the flaws here can be traced back to Lucas’s fidelity to his concept. It’s not necessarily that he’s mean-spirited so much as he keeps writing about things you have to be nasty about, and he’s gotten so good at it that’s he’s worth listening to. But unless you’re freshly scarred yourself, Twelve Angry Months is probably going to make you wish he’d found something a little less raw for subject matter.
// Notes from the Road
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