The conventional wisdom surrounding Austin, Texas, is that the city is a creative hotbed, home to both the SXSW Festival and populated by free-thinking boho types like those in Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Even a decade later, Linklater’s view of the city is the only one I hold. Whether this picture is true is debatable—and may be flat-out beside the point—but there’s some legitimate talent there in the Lone Star State.
So it makes sense that the Spiders, their heads bursting with ideas, huge guitar licks, and a wide range of influences, hail from the one state (sorry, Alaska) big enough to contain them. On their debut, the Spiders—lead singer/guitarist Christopher Benedict, drummer Gary First, bassist Karl Toft, and lead guitarist Eric Snow—aim to blow themselves up bigger than their home state. Damned if they don’t just about succeed.
First things first: Why hasn’t anyone named an album Glitzkrieg before (at least as far as my research has gleaned ...)? Perhaps no other band felt they could live up to such an audacious title, but the Spiders have pulled off the trick with relative ease. Mixing equal parts Led Zeppelin, Queen, and New York Dolls, it’s like 1974 all over again. And while they’re certainly not in the same league as those rock titans, the Spiders distilled those band’s essences (riffage, bombast, and strut) and boiled up their own concoction. Tasty stuff.
When they are bowing to the gods of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, the Spiders are nearly unstoppable. “Sex Is Thicker Than Blood” re-imagines David Johansen as a vampire, and thanks to Snow’s how-low-can-you-go guitar tuning, the song is a rumbling sonic assault. “School Night Out”, with Toff’s slinky bass glommed onto a Devoesque art-rock outtake, becomes a tongue-in-cheek commentary on teen sexuality and “nonconformist conformity”, a world full of snuck cigarettes and loitering at the 7-11. It’s obvious the band is having a blast spitting these songs out.
I’m happy just basking in the all-around well-crafted cock rock and incendiary guitar solos on tracks like “Warm Witness Stare” and “Supershy”, but if you’re looking for a “message” or some good old-fashioned punk vitriol, well, the Spiders gotcha covered there too, even if it’s hard to interpret. There’s an odd strain of religion and politics darting through the guitar riffs and shrieks on Glitzkrieg. In the Sabbath-gone-glam opener, “Gospel Song”, Benedict implores “Oh my Lord my savior / Come down and oppress me… / All you sinners swing for your Lord!” And the attention-grabbing title of “Terrorism” reveals a demented power-pop tune, but a closer inspection finds an inexplicable homosexual undertone: “Terrorism / Is his passion / All those angry boys / Really turn him on”. Guh? Meanwhile, “The Sneer” trades in the ‘70s influences for the Hellacopters (winning the album’s Best Riff Award in the process… and yes I know who the Hellacopters were influenced by), and is a vitriolic anti-expatriate rant. Sometimes the Spiders have their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks, other times I remember they hail from George Bush’s home state (even if they are from Austin) and I can’t get a good read on their politics. Here’s the best way to appreciating Glitzkrieg: Tune out the lyrics and just play air guitar, trying to keep up with Shaw’s seemingly endless supply of riffs.
One knock on Glitzkrieg, though. Enough with the hatin’ on California. Yeah, guys, we know Hollywood is full of fake-titted, ultra-vapid wastes of space craving sex and undeserved fame, as “Hollywood Hills” and “Alive With Pleasure” remind us. Sure those tunes sound sharp, all Dolls-y and scuffed up, but they’re the audio equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. And why do four guys from Austin give a rat’s ass about Los Angeles? Leave that cultural inspection for old X albums.
L.A. nonsense aside, the Spiders know their role as caretaker of ‘70s guitar and art rock. They’ve got one of the genre’s best-named albums ever, and they make you wish you were cool enough to live in the Austin of your mind. What more do you want?