Scissor Sisters notwithstanding, one thing that’s sadly lacking in today’s crop of new American rock artists, indie or otherwise, is flamboyance, some good, old fashioned charisma. While Canadian acts continue to charm their way into hipsters’ hearts, be it the insanity of The Arcade Fire, the self-professed “soft revolution” of Stars, or Leslie Feist’s Calgary-meets-Paris charm, American buzz bands seem to be either overtly emotive (Bright Eyes), musically ambitious to the point of loftiness (Fiery Furnaces), or catering to the “freak folk” fad (Animal Collective, Joanna Newsom). They all mean well, but where’s the showmanship? The Killers brought some much-needed panache back to mainstream pop rock, which, despite the frustrating inconsistency of Hot Fuss, was enormously refreshing, but Brandon Flowers’ polite Anglophile affectations still come of as slightly stilted. As good as all that music has been, where’s the arrogance, the desire to become a hedonistic rock star?
“Me, me, me, me is all you say that I care about/Me, me, me, me is all I ever want to talk about,” sneers Louis XIV frontman Jason Hill, ostentatiously taking it upon himself to bring preening narcissism back to rock ‘n’ roll: “I’m gonna swipe your identity/Take your love and turn it into obscenity.” Named after one of the most decadent dudes in world history, San Diego’s Louis XIV seem well on their way to following the legendary French monarch’s example, and to be honest, their new EP Illegal Tender could not have arrived at a more appropriate time.
Channeling Iggy Pop, Mark E. Smith, David Bowie, and Marc Bolan seemingly at the same time, Hill is all over this five track disc, delivering a fabulously smarmy performance, and to the band’s credit, the music matches him every step of the way. Illegal Tender all strut, swagger, and come-ons, something not entirely groundbreaking, mind you, but extremely entertaining. “Louis XIV” has a great, slinky, T. Rex glam beat provided by drummer Mark Anders Maigaard, the guitars possessing the raw tones of The Stooges, highlighted by a terrific solo (that’s right, indie kids, a real, live guitar solo) by the multi-instrumentalist Hill, evoking both Bolan and Mick Ronson. “Illegal Tender”, meanwhile, is great fun, as Hill and co-conspirator Brian Karscig adopt foppish English accents and engage in a ridiculous dialogue, sounding like The Fall’s Mark E. Smith having a Gollum-esque conversation with himself, as the music takes on a charmingly inebriated feel that sounds similar to The Libertines. And speaking of the late Mr. Bolan, “Marc” is a surprisingly touching homage to the legendary artist, an effective, Ziggy Stardust style, piano-driven ballad that proves these guys aren’t always all about great riffs.
But, true to form, after they get under your skin with a song like “Marc”, Hill and his cohorts pull the rug out from under you on the terrific single “Finding Out True Love is Blind”, an audacious garage rocker that’s as catchy as it is brash. “Chocolate girl, you’re looking like something I want/And your Asian friend, she can come if she wants,” leers Hill, eschewing political correctness in favor of pure lust, as a slightly menacing, five-note guitar riff slices through the verses, Maigaard’s taut beats punctuated by audible gasps. During the chorus, guest vocalist Lindsey Troy replies submissively, “Wind me up and make me crawl to you/Tie me up and make me call to you.” Say what you will about Hill, but this song is deliciously salacious.
All but “Marc” and the countrified closing track “Louis Reprise” (which, essentially, is little more than a throwaway) appear on Louis XIV’s upcoming album, slated for a late March release, so it’s understandable for some to choose to hold off until the full-length comes out, but for what it’s worth, Illegal Tender holds up very well on its own. It’s a most tantalizing teaser for a band with a serious shot at the big time, and if the rest of the album’s as impressive as this, the big time beckons. Conor Oberst can have all the accolades. Louis XIV will take all the women instead.