I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House: Put Here to Bleed
Nashville schtickmeister Toby Keith might sing about the Angry American, but he's got nothing on Portland, Oregon's Mike D. As the singer/chief songwriter/visionary for the band I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House (what a name for a band), he's not afraid of hiding his rage, and he doesn't let up for a second. He hates rock stars, the National Rifle Association, and most of all, he despises President George W. Bush and his cadre of cronies. A former member of the US Army's 101st Airborne Air Assault division, Mike D. says, "I would gladly give my life for a righteous cause. However, making Dick Cheney and Halliburton richer doesn't make me feel any freer or safer . . . It's time to be heroes and not fucking bullies." His band's music channels that rage into some absolutely ferocious, country-fried Southern rock, and their latest album, Put Here to Bleed is one of the angriest albums we've ever come across in the past couple of years.
Sounding like the Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood with a really bad throat infection, and coming across as stubbornly liberal as Steve Earle, Mike D. rasps his way through eleven songs, ably supported by his ace four-piece band, who deliver a pummeling blend of country, hard rock, and barroom blues. And man, is this dude pissed. When a guy writes a song entitled "American Fuck Machine", you know you're in for an interesting ride. On that track, with its '70s hard rock riffs and swampy harp playing by David Lipkind, Mike D. tears at the United States government, snarling, "Lies are getting told over and over again / I'll just pray to the white god on my TV / And I won't say a word or think for myself / Hell gets rationed out to unclean things like me". "Twerp" is aimed solely at Bush and what his arch-conservatism is doing to the world, as Mike D. snidely says, "I plan to spend the apocalypse drunk and passed out on the floor". On the vicious "Things That Fail", he takes aim at "Old bastards with a pro-war attitude and them same old bastards on Viagra", while the anti-war ballad "La" takes on more of a rough-edged, hymnal tone, while still choosing not to mince words one bit.
The real keeper is the tune "Dear Mr. Heston", a scathing attack on the NRA. You'd think it's just another left-wing anti-gun rant, but as it happens, Mike D.'s younger brother was killed by another brother who was playing around with a parent's gun at home, and when you listen to the song, it becomes a powerful indictment of American gun culture, easily one of the most emotionally charged songs of the year: "Josh said I know where mama keeps the gun / She won't even know that it's gone / I took a class and I got my license / Now my little brother will never know the love of a girl / And he'll never drink a cold one / And he'll never see another sunrise / And he'll never damn sure damn sure fire that gun / Dear Mr. Heston / If you ever saw a 12-year-old boy's brains splattered on a kitchen wall / Well you'd hang your head in shame / You rifle totin' whore / Cold blooded old blooded sick ass man".
Some comic relief comes in the form of "The Ballad of Courtney Taylor", a very funny attack on Mr. Dandy Warhol himself, as Mike D. not only lays into his fellow Portlander, but also all shallow rock stars everywhere, as he growls sarcastically, "What's that shit some salami on my deli tray? / I'm gonna leak it to the Willamette Week that I'm bisexual or gay / Cause I'm a rockstar". Drawing on his experience behind the scenes in the business, his lyrics are razor-sharp; as he admits in the band's press release, "You can really see into someone's soul by what's on his/her rider".
If the music on Put Here to Bleed has a fault, it's that Mike D.'s voice lacks any discernable range whatsoever, and the fact that his ragged voice can barely carry a melody makes the album wear thin the further it goes on, but thanks to his excellent lyrics and his band's superb performance, this is still an album that's definitely worth hearing. Listening to it, you're struck with the realization that I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House seem to love their country more than the people who govern it lead us all to believe. No matter how out of tune it might sound, Mike D.'s is a voice that you don't want to be silenced anytime soon.