TVT’s 2000 collection of artists, Rock Hard, is a lot like Prince’s last 4 or 5 albums: you just know the guy’s got more talent in the fingernail of his left pinkie than most artists have in their entire bodies. And a “bad” Prince album is still better than a good album from just about anybody else. But because Prince has proven exactly what he’s capable of, and he isn’t even coming close to fulfilling his potential of late, his albums sink, they’re a disappointment, and they leave their listener with that feeling Britney Spears fans must have had when it became clear that yes, indeed, they are fake: a kind of duped despair.
Okay, so this might be exaggerating a bit, but the fact remains that for a collection of some impressive “modern rock” artists, Rock Hard just kinda doesn’t rock hard at all. There are a few standout tracks, predictably, but as a whole, the album is less a compilation of heavy hitters and more a simple collection, rather haphazardly assembled, of miscellaneous artists with varying degrees of talent and originality. While this is often the fate of compilation discs, this one in particular seems to hit both ends of the spectrum, pairing the really strong with the incredibly weak.
The disc opens with Bender’s “Superfly,” a smart choice since it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. It hooks the listener immediately with a phat bass line that’s a poignant throw-back to the best of KMFDM and TKK, or any of the best stuff of Wax Trax! It’s well-balanced with strong guitar work, even though the fade-out ending is a bit unsatisfying. Similarly, Nothingface’s “Can’t Wait for Violence” beckons the ghost of late ‘80s/early ‘90s Ministry, borrowing liberally from Al Jourgensen’s vocal style and even musical composition. The only band on the album without a ready album to plug, Nothingface might just have the most potential of any of the bands included here.
As good as Nothingface and Bender are, good luck getting through Nashville Pussy’s “Wrong Side Of The Gun” with your stomach contents still in your possession. At first listen, I laughed out loud and thought, “What a great, witty, satirical response to the very worst in heavy metal! I love it! It’s like…why, it’s like Spinal Tap!” But the more I listened, the more I realized that it really is just the worst in heavy metal. There’s no satire here, no joke. They even use the obligatory heavy metal cowbell. And that’s sad. You can almost imagine the video: it would be one of those live performance videos that would flash back and forth between the half-naked women in the audience, on the shoulders of their terrified and pussy whipped boyfriends, and the backstage “raw” footage of the boys in the band with their groupies and Jack Daniels bottles. Then, for the grand finale, we’d be treated to on-stage pyrotechnics exploding dangerously close to their Warrant-esque mall hair. As if we didn’t learn anything from Michael Jackson. It’s funny, though, and kinda endearing, in a way that makes me want to make them an apple pie and ask about their day jobs.
But for all the good and the really bad, Rock Hard is most notable for the downright strange. Ignite’s “Veteran” sounds like some totally unexplained combination of bad Rob Halford and Freddie Mercury, and The Unband have that same lovechild combination of bad metal and Lenny Kravitz. Go figure. But nothing, nothing, is weirder than DJ Hurricane’s cover of the Queen classic, “We Will Rock You.” Um, this is just eerie. While the cover itself is interesting enough—along with aborting most of the actual song, the balance has been completely reversed, privileging the drum track over the guitar—it’s just too polished to blend effectively with the supposed harshness of the cover. Not even Scott Weiland’s unexplainable presence here can prevent this track from sounding like the Beastie Boys smoked a lot of crack and had a bad, bad day in the studio. It’s just plain bizarre.
Overall, Rock Hard is inconsistent and weird. Just weird. It’s easy enough to hear the influence of granddaddies like Ministry and KMFDM, but it’s painful to hear, in equal proportion, the bland and predictable sounds of Green Day. It’s not that most of the tracks are unbearable, they’re just uninspired. And with the exception of Sevendust and Hednoize (who contribute what is by far the most interesting and compelling song of the compellation, but also the easiest to overlook), it’s hard to imagine most of these tracks really holding up under close aural scrutiny. As individual tracks, there are some worthy moments here. But as a collection of work, well, it’s Prince. I gotta stop listening to compilations…