The critical narrative regarding the recent rock renaissance has already become a cohesive and continuous entity. The nature of our music press in the new millennium is such that it might be impossible to discern which came first, the hype or the success. Would the Strokes and the White Stripes have become the twin supernovas of New Rock if they hadn't been championed by the NME, Spin, Rolling Stone, Q and every other media outlet between here and Timbuktu?
There will, of course, never be an adequate answer to this question. We are living, moreso every day, in Marshall McCluhan's world of perpetual media. Try as we may to isolate our own individual perceptions from the onslaught of an endless media barrage, our thoughts and feelings are influenced by what we see, hear and read all around us. What thoughts are we left to call our own anymore?
What in the hell does this have to do with the hard-rocking duo from Glasgow known as the Sluts of Trust? Admittedly, not a whole lot.
In a crowded class of New Rock groups, the Sluts stand out. Sure, they're a two-piece with a guitarist and a drummer, but any similarities to the White Stripes end pretty much right there. The Sluts owe their sounds a lot more to people like the Queens of the Stone Age and their ilk than any pansies you might see on the cover of Spin.
Which is, of course, the great untold story of the New Rock movement, and that brings us back, at least tangentially, to Mr. McCluhan. Narrative is unavoidable, in journalism or criticism; it's the tool we use to understand the sequence of events in our lives and in our world. But narrative can also be deceptive, especially when we're talking about history so recent that the ink isn't even dry yet.
So it behooves me to mention that the Queens of the Stone Age, while certainly not an obscure group by any means, are as much architects of the recent rock revival as anyone else, and their contributions have been underemphasized by a generation of hipster critics. The proof of this supposition is the existence of We Are All Sluts of Trust. This album rocks hard, of that there is no doubt. The Sluts are as exciting and fierce a group as I've heard in quite some time. But they aren't playing the type of self-consciously hip pseudo-college rock the Strokes specialize in, or the well-mannered white Chicago blues that Jack and Meg produce. This is the kind of balls-out, greasy bar-band heavy metal that dates back to Sabbath and Zeppelin. They are stridently contemporary, and their brief career to date is every bit a part of the recent rock revival. But at the same time they are part of an ongoing tradition whose most recent adherents hail from the desert regions of southern California and not the smoky confines of suburban Chicago. This is where the New Rock meets the Stoner Rock. All hail Kyuss! Bow down before the return of the son of the Monster Magnet!
There is no angst here. There are no arch cultural references or coy postmodern gambits. There are drums pounding to wake the living dead and guitar riffs striding across the globe like evil man-eating dinosaurs. There are songs with elaborate mystical metaphors that probably seem really deep when you're stoned. There are also songs with really crude sexual imagery that probably seems really deep when you're drunk.
Rock didn't need to be saved by a bunch of pansies in designer jackets. Rock was alive and well all this time, hidden deep in the bowels of suburbia and alive in the ringing ears of every high-school dropout rolling a joint on a dog-eared paperback copy of The Silmarillion. This kind of rock didn't pay any attention to "electronica" and openly reviled teen pop. This kind of rock thinks that Alice in Chains and Soundgarden were the best grunge bands, and that Nirvana wasn't anywhere near as heavy as Guns & Roses. This kind of rock is waiting with open arms for someone to give them a copy of We Are All Sluts of Trust, because this album will change their life. This kind of rock would probably scoff at the mention of Marshall McCluhan (even though they might have sneaked a peek at their older sister's copy of The Medium is the Massage), but they would definitely understand what he was trying to say: don't let The Man fool you.
The Sluts are nobody's fools. They've only been around for about a year and a half but they already sound like seasoned pros. John McFarlane and Anthony O'Donnell are playing rock and roll with the kind of feverish intensity that makes you doubt their sanity.
The album kicks off with "That's Right . . . That Cat's Right", a frantic statement of intent that slams into your skull like a fire truck hitting the hull of a battleship. McFarlane screams and yelps like a man on fire while O'Donnell hits the drums as if his life depended on it. "Piece O' You" is built on the kind of cascading and mutating guitar riffage that underlies the best QotSA tracks. There's one four-note riff that propels the entire song forward, and it's the kind of psychedelic monster that makes you wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
"Leave You Wanting More" begins with a hazy fog of feedback before morphing into a monstrously hungry groove, with O'Donnell's primitivistic drumming and McFarlane's percussive guitar making an uneasy and irresistible symbiosis, like two jackhammers wielded by one cranky gorilla. "Let's . . ." is one of the albums quieter numbers, by which I mean that it takes two and a half minutes for the crazy molten metal guitar part to kick in.
I have no earthly idea what "The Continuing Struggle Between the Dirty and the Smooth Starring Admiral Flannel and the Duke of Blag" is about, seeing as I can only really understand about half the words that leave McFarlane's mouth. "Greatest Gift" stands about as much of a chance as anything on here of becoming a rock radio staple, that is, not much except in the magic world of Rocktopia. It's got a really sharp quiet/loud dynamic that plays well, and except for the recurring screaming of "Fuck me baby / Fuck me with your fist" it could be a huge hit.
"Dominoes" is the album's longest track, a progressive metal jam in the fine tradition of, well, every metal song that ever started out with slow acoustic guitar and built to a climax of thrashing drums and flailing guitar. I hear there's a few of those. If you though they were going soft, "Meanwhile In Rocksville" kicks in right after that with an explosion of super crazy hillbilly thrash punk. At this point I begin to think that the Sluts are divinely inspired in their devotion to mayhem.
The album finishes with "Pirate Weekend". I don't really know what this song has to do with pirates, but it's got the kind of spooky-weird chanting vocals that put the fear of God into stoners everywhere. McFarlane busts into this weird scatting thing that seems like some sort of demonic channeling and it is at that point that you realize that rock and roll has truly blessed these two Scottish lads with the power to atomize their foes and destroy everything that stands in their path with the power of shit-hot metal.
Seriously, these guys are louder and tighter than a lot of supposedly hardcore groups with five members who've been around the block for a decade. I almost don't believe that the Sluts are merely two guys who've only been playing together for a year. It simply defies belief that they could learn to rock so hard in such a brief amount of time. And yet rock they do, and we are the better for it.