Back in 1992, when grunge was at its peak, the rock world shifting suddenly from teased hair and power ballads to flannel and sensitive guy lyrics, I remember seeing a television interview with Kiss mastermind Gene Simmons. He was asked who his favorite new band was, and without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “White Zombie”. Amidst the maudlin rock music that was coming out at the time, White Zombie was such a relief to those who missed the campy shock rock of the likes of Alice Cooper, Kiss, W.A.S.P., and to a lesser extent, Mötley Crüe. Here was some brutally heavy, yet incredibly catchy music that reveled in B-movie kitsch, embracing metal, industrial, and even disco, while referencing slasher movies and Russ Meyer flicks. It was like a twisted, unholy mix of The Misfits, Ministry, KC & the Sunshine Band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Parliament, and The Carrie Nations (of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls notoriety), and as evidenced by such insipid choruses as “Devil man! Devil man!”, the humor was always there in the music.
At the helm of it all was one Robert Cummings, known by millions as Rob Zombie. When White Zombie disbanded, and Zombie himself launched his solo career, it was clear that he was the sole driving force in the band, as his solo efforts sounded like mere continuations of the White Zombie sound. While he went on to dabble in such things as film directing, creating an action figure with Todd MacFarlane, and forming a production company that will develop feature films, video games, comics, books, and music, as far as his own music was concerned, Zombie wasn’t exactly prolific, as he put out only four White Zombie/Rob Zombie albums in ten years (not counting the two lackluster remix discs). As his feature directorial debut House of 1000 Corpses attests, his strengths lie in his music, which, despite sticking to the same reliable formula for more than a decade, never fails to get your attention from time to time. Now that the man is busy planning the sequel to his film, it’s as good a time as any for him to compile a definitive Rob Zombie retrospective, and the resulting disc, Past, Present, & Future does not disappoint.
Let’s face it, all of his albums get a bit repetitive once you listen to them, getting bogged down with filler, so this new compilation, featuring 17 of his best tracks (and two new ones), works brilliantly. Spanning his four albums for Geffen (primarily the singles), as well as numerous soundtrack contributions, this rousing album pummels you for an hour and a quarter, the contagious beats, the churning guitars, and Zombie’s sinister growl, all relentless.
Although White Zombie’s first three independently released albums are ignored, it’s great to see that their last two records weren’t. After all, it was La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Vol. 1 that introduced the masses to Mr. Zombie in 1992. “Thunder Kiss ‘65” is still as cool as ever, a grinding, groovy tribute to the great black and white Russ Meyer films from the mid-‘60s, like Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, Mudhoney, and Motorpsycho, even boasting a classic Tura Satana dialogue sample. “Black Sunshine” is just as fun, as Iggy Pop makes an appearance, reciting Zombie’s own B-movie lines: “True death: 400 horsepower of maximum performance piercing the night/This is black sunshine.” 1995’s Astro Creep 2000 had the band going into a more dance-oriented, sample-laden direction, yielding the unlikely hit “More Human Than Human” (I’m still puzzled why it was so popular) and the much more superior “Super Charger Heaven”, a sound Zombie would continue to develop on his subsequent solo efforts.
Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe remains his finest hour, as he and producer Scott Humphrey carry the sound over the top, an all-out orgy of metal, dance, and sampling. Only a guy like Rob Zombie could get away with recording a tribute to Herman Munster’s hot rod, and the insanely catchy “Dragula” has become the man’s most famous song. “Living Dead Girl” is a great combination of dance music and horror movie themes, while “Superbeast” is the kind of chuggin’ shock rock that Zombie has become a master at. The 2001 album The Sinister Urge, while a bit of a letdown, both musically and commercially, still holds its own, as proven by such selections as “Feel So Numb”, “Never Gonna Stop (The Red Red Kroovy)”, and “Demon Speeding”.
No less than six songs on the compilation come from soundtracks. There are collaborations with the likes of Alice Cooper (“Hands of Death”) and Howard Stern (“The Great American Nightmare”), but by far the most noteworthy of the bunch are the wickedly groovy cover of KC & the Sunshine Band’s “I’m Your Boogieman” from The Crow 2 soundtrack, and the truly surreal, raunchy version of The Commodores’ “Brick House” (From House of 1000 Corpses), with none other than Lionel Richie dueting with Zombie. The two new songs hold up well; “Two Lane Blacktop”, inspired by the James Taylor movie of the same name, and “Girl on Fire” are the usual schtick we’ve come to expect, but are still loads of fun.
If that weren’t enough, the album comes with a bonus DVD, featuring ten music videos, including three previously unreleased clips, and since the two-disc set is selling for the price of a single CD, it’s a tremendous bargain for fans. Aside from the clunky, awkward cover of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”, Past, Present, & Future is as excellent as a greatest hits compilation as you’ll find anywhere. Longtime fans would do well to buy this for the DVD, but for first-timers, this album is all the Rob Zombie they’ll ever need. And everyone needs something like this in their music collection.
// Notes from the Road
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