Welcome to the Western Lodge, the fourth release by the off-kilter rock band Masters of Reality, is one of those albums that reminds record reviewers of the difference between “uninspired” and “uninspiring”. While Chris Goss, the brainchild behind the Masters, is obviously inspired to create music that is both within the average rock vein and simultaneously just outside of it. But while Goss is so inspired to create this music, it does little to inspire the listener.
It’s tempting to say that Welcome to the Western Lodge is all over the musical map, but the fact is that most of the songs can be evenly divided between psychedelic and grunge styles. Half of the disc hovers in the realm of Pink Floyd, most conspicuously “The Great Spelunker” and “Take a Shot at the Clown”, while the other half seems to retread ground already covered by bands like Dinosaur Jr. But where Pink Floyd had the masterful duo of Roger Waters and David Gilmour to focus the music, and Dinosaur Jr. was predicated on the talents of J. Mascis, such musical virtuosity is not readily apparent in Masters of Reality.
Which is really surprising. Goss is a well-celebrated producer who has worked with such big-name acts as Queens of the Stone Age, Stone Temple Pilots, Ian Astbury, and on various soundtracks. On 1992’s Sunrise on the Sufferbus, Goss recruited legendary drummer Ginger Baker (Cream) as a member of the Masters, and produced a solid, challenging rock album. But without Baker’s presence things seem a little stale almost a decade later, yet another surprise since Goss has always been the source of creative material for Masters of Reality.
Whatever the changes over the years and the concentration on studio work have done to Goss’s vision, it’s evidenced on Welcome to the Western Lodge that his originality is beginning to falter. On the most-offending tracks, the mix is so disparate that all the pieces of the songs stand apart from each other rather than being woven tightly together. There’s also an overabundant reliance on vocal effects, and no matter how much voice modulation adds to psychedelic impressions, it makes for a boring album when used to excess. Not surprisingly then, the songs that rely least on studio trickery are the most effective. “Moriah”, “Baby Mae”, and “Boymilk Waltz” (which still includes some voice mods, but is elevated by its symphonic elements) are catchy enough that there are actually some memorable moments once the disc has run its course. The final track, “Also Ran Song”, is perhaps the most interesting for it cacophonous drums and rumbling bass line, but is once again annoyingly modulated. It’s enough to make you wish for an Eiffel 65 vocoder.
When all is said and done, the psychedelic/grunge mishmash is simply old and tired. Welcome to the Western Lodge is not a bad album, but it’s not a good album either. It sits in the middle of the road, its most challenging aspect being finding something to get excited about.