Leave it to two half-Chinese brothers—Supagroup’s Chris and Benji Lee—to release their cock rock in extremis album Rules now in the Chinese Year of the Cock. (Yes, I know it’s a rooster; go with me on this.) The New Orleans-based Supagroup—singer Chris Lee, guitarist Benji Lee, bassist Leif Swift and drummer Michael Brueggen—unleashed a souped-up eponymous debut in 2003, full of AC/DC-worthy riffs and titles like “Rock and Roll Tried to Ruin My Life” and “Murder, Suicide, Death”. But Supagroup somehow never found their audience, and the intervening years have seen the rock music landscape shift away from Supagroup’s hedonism and towards darker New New Wave. Nobody bothered telling Supagroup that nobody rocks out anymore, and that’s a good thing, because Rules is a greasy, grimy, sleazy, slimy, rip-rollicking good time of an album.
There’s a small subset of bands—think the Supersuckers, Danko Jones, the Wildhearts, the Hellacopters, Supagroup—who believe in the Primacy of Rock, of Rock qua Rock. These guys don’t make records to attract the ladies; they make records to blow speakers out. Sure, the life of a rock star is often filled with drink, drugs, and women, but who needs those things when, as Supagroup notes, “Ruling (Is Its Own Reward)”? Backed by Benji’s cocksure AC/DC strut, Chris tut-tuts such amenities (?) as “Hotels / Bombshells / Every finger [having] a different smell” (ewww), instead choosing to “hail those who rock ‘n’ roll” and reminding/warning listeners that “kickin’ ass is what we do”.
Supagroup love mentioning how dangerous they are; there’s a braggadocio about them that hasn’t been heard since “Lord of the Thighs”-era Steven Tyler or Cock Rock King David Lee Roth in his early ‘80s prime. On the heavy-duty boogie “Invincible Me”, Chris boasts that he’s “Kung Fu below the belt” and (my personal favorite) “Get used to losing to a guy like me”. Do you want to find out if he’s bluffing? Meanwhile, “Let’s Go (Get Wasted)” is a turbocharged blowout reminiscent of Rick Derringer’s arena rock staple “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”, and “Hot Times” would fit perfectly on Side A of Van Halen’s Fair Warning, with its incendiary guitar solo and goofy breakdown where the band argues over who is gonna pick up more beer.
So yes, Rocking Out tops Supagroup’s to-do list, followed by Kicking Ass and Being Awesome, but the band still manages to make time for the ladies… Supagroup-style, natch. The out-of-control-in-every-sense-of-the-phrase “Hog Wild” is a sleazy ode to the joys of scoring with fat chicks (for lack of a better term). On an album with numerous contenders, “Hog Wild” is Rules’ “funnest” track. And closer “Rough Edge” starts quiet and introspective, then explodes as Chris catalogs all the troublemaking ladies he’s bedded. Think the Nails’ “88 Lines About 44 Women” recast for sexual deviants.
Why is Supagroup worthy of critical acclaim for singing obnoxious songs about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll when, say, ‘80s hair bands did the exact same thing and they’re still musical punchlines 20 years hence? Well, for starters, Supagroup’s members don’t wear eyeliner. And second, they’re like pornography—and not because of their down ‘n’ dirty lyrics: For all the fun Supagroup have on record, you just know a band that’s serious about over-the-top rock when you hear one. For the hair bands, rock was never more than a means to free drink, drugs, and women; it was all about image. (And even now, witness Motley Crue’s Vince Neil and his VH1 makeover; if Neil was serious about music, wouldn’t he have better spent his makeover time in the recording studio?) Meanwhile, Supagroup may allude to the trappings of the decadent rock lifestyle, but really, for them, Rocking Out is its own reward. And if that’s too much to digest, know this: Rules is the year’s best party record, and in a perfect world, this album would come with a full keg. Drink up.
// Notes from the Road
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