There’s a scene in the sitcom Arrested Development where a character opens up a package marked “DEAD DOVE — DO NOT EAT!”, takes a quick glance at its contents, and quickly closes it while musing to himself: “Well, I don’t know what I was expecting”. Even if we know something’s contents, we still feel the need to examine them ourselves. I had a similar experience when I went to put Gibby Haynes and His Problem into my laptop. The idea of a Gibby Haynes solo album intrigued me, even though it really turned out to sound exactly like I should have expected. Gibby Haynes and His Problem is what the Butthole Surfers would sound like without Paul Leary’s guitars.
Gibby Haynes’s shtick is pretty well known by this point, and, on the whole, he does not deviate much from his usual bag of tricks. He distorts his voice through a variety of methods, exaggerates his southern drawl on queasy narratives, and throws out gross out references on occasion just to keep people’s attention. (The opening lines of the album, from “Kaiser”: “I want the Kaiser / You wear the diapers”.) It’s not that his act has grown tired; it simply does not work as well without Leary’s signature cough syrup psych-punk guitar playing. His Problem guitarist Kyle Ellison is a fine guitarist in his own right (check out his riffing in the relatively uncluttered modern rock of “Nights”), but he is more comfortable playing straight-ahead rock as opposed to would-be freak-outs like the dull “I Need Some Help”.
When Gibby Haynes realizes that his band is not the Butthole Surfers, he can subdue his act just enough to gel with them. The three song suite of “Letter”, “15000”, and “Nights” is one of old-fashioned dirty rock songs where Haynes drops his quasi-ironic act and turns into a rock and roll animal. Where most of the other tracks are not enough like his Surfers material to entice his former listeners and too much like his Surfers material to capture a new audience, these three swamp rock moments provide the only real surprises on the album. These songs are the seeds of an actual new project, and not just warmed-over Butthole leftovers.
Gibby Haynes and His Problem suffers from a lack of coherent identity, but, as someone who remembers his side project with Johnny Depp, I know it could be a lot worse. At least some of the Butthole Surfers-style tracks work reasonably well. “Kaiser” gains a few points for a chorus gobbled together from weather-worn ’60s hits, sung with Haynes’s wonderful couldn’t-care-less Texan sneer. “Superman”, actually featuring Leary on keyboards, sounds like a twisted revisiting of Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman”. Even Haynes’s standard cheap sex jokes score in the closing “Redneck Sex”. It consists of little more than the repetition of the title with a few more asides about various pieces of redneck anatomy, accompanied by a crunchy riff. Only Haynes could take such unpromising material and build a great song around it.
The rest of the album falls somewhere in between the styles of these song groupings. The remaining songs do not go to the gonzo extremes of the Butthole Surfers, or achieve the lean tunefulness of the trio of trash rockers. “I Need Some Help”, as noted earlier, is an entire waste of eight minutes, a sprawl of too-much-ness that adds up to nothing at all. The rest of the tracks are forgotten even before the fade out. Gibby Haynes’s first solo project in his own name, ultimately, is something of a bust for me, but I ask myself again, what was I expecting?