Halfway through their self-titled debut, Thunderlip — the Wilmington, North Carolina rock and roll band — takes a brief break from singing about chasing tail, tight leather pants, and Viking love fantasies to play “Gonna Die For My Rock and Roll”. An earnest song clocking in at just over two minutes, it not only encapsulates the band’s attitude, but also should clue listeners in to the audience that Thunderlip typically reaches out to — namely young men who crush beer cans with their foreheads.
Looking for thoughtful, soul-searching rock lyrics ala Coldplay or modern indie rock from Thunderlip? Chances are you’ve probably already figured out that’s like expecting to see Bob Dylan conducting your kid’s school band. Skim the lyrics to “Meat the Snake”, with its references to snake charming and “phallic needs”, and you have a pretty clear idea where the band’s interests lie. Not that that’s a bad thing; rock ‘n’ roll has always been about chasing skirts, and Thunderlip comes from a long line of “back door men”.
The band’s swagger and bad attitude comes courtesy of ’60s garage punks like the Sonics and the Stooges, hearkening back to the days when nothing but “finding some action” mattered and making music was the preferred standard for doing so. That influence, however, has been filtered through the likes of Motorhead and Johnny Thunders, which is why the production on the album comes out sounding like a kissing cousin of the bands that formed in the late ’80s wake of Guns and Roses.
But don’t be misled by the proximity of such legendary bands; the point of their presence is to characterize the band’s sound, not it’s quality. Thunderlip has a pair of decent guitarists in James Yopp and John Manning, but even their spirited solos can’t make up for Chuck Krueger, the band’s lead vocalist.
Krueger is a shrieker and a screamer in the hardcore tradition of Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine. In some respects, his presence in what is essentially a garage band makes Thunderlip almost a genre-meld experiment. Though Krueger’s powerful voice would function favorably accompanying a hardcore band, it’s patently mismatched with the rest of Thunderlip.
The attempt is commendable, but in the end what else could have happened? It was an experiment doomed to fail. The two have similar roots, but blues-based garage and hardcore, with it’s spoken word influences, are too dissimilar to be effectively married. Can you imagine someone like Henry Rollins fronting the Sonics? Madness!
It would be a lot easier to dismiss the album if it was a complete wash, but glimmers of hope for Thunderlip can be found here and there. A few of the songs, like “Evil on Two Legs” work far better than its comrades. (It isn’t a coincidence that these few songs do NOT feature Krueger on vocals. Whoever is singing, however, is unclear, as both Yopp and Manning are listed as vocalists but aren’t credited for specific songs.)
The New York Dolls, an obvious influence on Thunderlip, once sang that a personality crisis will lead to frustration and heartache. This could be the very reason why Thunderlip’s debut is so disconcerting. Let’s hope the next time we hear from them, they will have mastered one genre instead of moonlighting in two.