Butch Walker is a funny guy. He has his hand in many cookie jars, whether it be as a rock star (okay, a one hit wonder, but still a rock star), songwriter for other people (he co-wrote SR-71's hit "Right Now"), or producer (he's responsible for the bombastic shine on the new Ike -- formerly John Faye Power Trip -- disc). And when he was busy fronting the now-departed Marvelous 3, he basically was the band, writing the material, serving as the band's vocalist and overall image. So why bother to go solo?
Marvelous 3's last album, 2000's ReadySexGo was a concept album about late '80s hair metal bands. Drenched in cocksure bravado, sexy swagger, bad sexual double entendres and sprinkled with more than a little misogyny, ReadySexGo was so close to the real thing that it became difficult to tell if Marvelous 3 were still in on the joke. Whether or note ReadySexGo was a big, brilliant, obnoxious kiss-off or whether the band completely lost the plot has since been a topic debated music fans on the Internet. And of course, many felt the answer would come with what the band did next.
Left of Self-Centered, Walker's first solo bow, comes less than two years after ReadySexGo failed to make an impression on the charts (remember, their "Freak of the Week" was one of the best rockin' hits of 1999), and all told, not much has changed. Walker has, however, calmed down a LOT since ReadySexGo, ditching most of the heavy metal posturing, most of the profanity, and even turning out three (!) big power ballads. This is hardly super-sensitive stuff, but most of it isn't driven by the bravado found on ReadySexGo. It's like Walker was always a talented guy, eager to branch out and try some new things, but was afraid to do it while his buddies were watching. Now that they're gone, he can test the waters a bit.
But despite this, Left of Self-Centered is very much in the Marvelous 3 vein, it's just more like their first two albums: 1997's Math and Other Problems and 1998's Hey! Album. Nowhere is this more evident than on the "opening" (more on this later) track (and first single) "My Way" or "Suburbia", a hard-rocking tale of the hidden darkness of suburbia; basically the kind of subject matter you'd normally expect Everclear to tackle. There's also some straight-up power-pop in "Far Away From Close" and "Diary of a San Fernando Sexx Star", as well as the aforementioned weepy ballads in "If (Jeannie's Song)" and "Take Tomorrow (One Day at a Time)". Walker trips up a few times, too, as on the blunt-edged rawk of "Get Down" and "Sober", two songs that are LOUD but have little to offer in the way of hooks or structure.
And, like on ReadySexGo, Walker revisits some '80s metal on a song like "Into the Black". It's nearly a re-write of ReadySexGo's "I'm Losing You," which set tense, dark lyrics over a steady dance beat. And, also like the reading of album credits that closed ReadySexGo, Left of Self-Centered opens with a mock commercial for a product called "Rock Vocal Power", a D.I.Y. kit to help anyone learn to sing like a rock star. And in this track Walker manages to take the piss out of Creed, Kid Rock, and Korn while showing off his own impressive voice over skills. The problem is that it merits two, maybe three listens before you're likely to just skip right to "My Way". And while Left of Self-Centered abandons most of the vulgar streak found in ReadySexGo, there are still moments -- like on an "announcement" prior to "Alicia Amnesia" that proclaims "Kids, it's time to drop your socks and grab your cocks" -- where Walker establishes that this is a boys' club, straight up and with no attempt to hide. Whether that's entertaining or just plain stupid is left up to you.
Any fans of Cheap Trick -- rowdy, loud, catchy, slightly gauche (of course, if you like this stuff you probably shouldn't normally use words like "gauche") rock music -- will do well by any of Walker's projects, whether it be this one, his Marvelous 3 work (all three of their albums are more or less worth owning), or any of the various projects he's contributed to. In an era of somewhat faceless rock acts -- bands like Train or Creed whose members are as unmemorable as their music -- it's great to have Butch Walker, someone who flies his freak flag high as his ego and always makes an impression, even if his music can be hit-and-miss.