Once upon a time, the Reverend Horton Heat had a lot of fire. The Reverend was dark, scary, and fearful, mixing the threatening messages of a hickish, backwoods, bible-thumpin’ preacher with rockabilly riffs from Hell to form a careening rock ‘n’ roll mess that made for some of the most interesting records of the ‘90s. Unfortunately, the firey Reverend Horton Heat we knew from hits like “One Time For Me” and “The Devil’s Chasin’ Me” has lost his flame. Instead, he sounds like he’s perennially stuck in his contribution to the 1996 Saturday Morning compilation, where he perfectly mimicked the breathless, exhausted Dick Dastardly on his mission to “Stop That Pigeon”. It worked well on that track. It doesn’t work that well here.
This is a question facing many of the ‘90s alternative rock bands as they age—how to keep in step after that greatest hits record, and long after any chance of having a hit. Granted, the Reverend Horton Heat were never a true mainstream success, but in the fairly diverse mid-‘90s alternative rock scene, there was room for a band that mixed scary religious antics and edgy rockabilly with a defiantly white-trash sensibility. Then we got Kid Rock and rap metal, and the general public as a whole lost interest. The Reverend Horton Heat popped out a greatest hits record (which contains a wealth of great material) and regrouped. What to do next?
Lucky 7 is their second album after their hits compilation, and strips away a lot of the alternative rock trappings designed to get the band mainstream recognition. That’s not the problem, though, as their strength lies predominantly in the Reverend Horton Heat’s thunderous guitar riffs. The problem is that the band seems to have switched onto autopilot when writing these songs. Lucky 7 is Horton Heat by numbers: there are two nearly identical songs about cars (in both, the Reverend rattles off the car’s features, focusing on one of those features to shout out through the choruses), two impressive but showy rockabilly instrumentals (okay, one dips a bit into bluegrass, which is pretty cool), one overly long and pointless sermon/song combination that goes nowhere and makes no sense, and lots of indistinguishable rockers, through all of which the Reverend huffs and puffs breathlessly.
Of course, this is again one of those post-greatest hits records, an album issued on an independent label after the band departed from the majors, and almost by definition is aimed more at fans than casual new listeners. On that level, there are no fatal flaws to sink Lucky 7—this is not a bad record so much as an uninteresting one. That means that anyone who has continued to follow Reverend Horton Heat until now will probably still be glad to have this, even if it doesn’t really begin to compare with their/his peak output. If you’re new, however, the excellent Holy Rollers compilation will serve as a much better introduction to the Reverend Horton Heat’s blend of spicy riffs and backwoods philosophy.
// Notes from the Road
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