Back around 1988, when Guns 'N Roses' popularity really started to explode, it set off a wave of no-frills, barroom rock, where, typical of the music industry, band after band was unleashed upon the public until we couldn't keep track of who sang what. No, I'm not talking about the silly "hair bands" of the time, not joke acts like Britny Fox and Firehouse. I'm referring to all those greasy-haired, denim-wearing hard rock bands who based their acts around the riffs of AC/DC, the swagger of Aerosmith, and the trashy sounds of the New York Dolls. If you were in high school back then, you probably remember all those bands who put out a memorable song or two, then got lost in the shuffle, like the veteran band Kix, Dangerous Toys, Dirty Looks, Little Caesar, Circus of Power, and a couple years later, the raucous Four Horsemen. Hell, even that first Danzig album fits in the same category. The music was simple, appealed to the lowest common denominator (some might say that it's the kind of music that sounds better when you're drunk), and the songs were about nothing more than booze, bikes, and babes, but admit it: as cheesy as that music was, you liked it from time to time. Say it loud: Kix's "Blow My Fuse" is a killer tune.
The recent North American success of Britain's The Darkness has whetted rock fans' appetites for some more of that Big Dumb Rock, and the Austin, Texas band Young Heart Attack are the first to step up to the plate. Unlike The Darkness, who pay homage to '70s hard rock heroes, Young Heart Attack sound straight out of the late '80s, and on their debut album, Mouthful of Love, they pull it off so well, it's scary. Produced by Cliff Jones (from the '90s Britrock band Gay Dad), it's a frantic, boisterous, half hour blast of rock, no, make that rawk, that demands to be played at earbleed level in car stereos in the summer.
With their relentless double guitars, propulsive tempos, and singer/guitarist Chris Hodge's constant scream (which sounds as if he's trying to imitate AC/DC's Bon Scott and Brian Johnson at the same time), Young Heart Attack sound like a good, albeit cliched rock band, but they've got an ace up their sleeves that no band in the '80s would have had the guts to attempt, that being the presence of co-vocalist Jennifer Stephens. Stephens, who has a terrific voice, contrasts greatly from Hodges's howl, yet the two seem to fit, as throughout the album they engage in a game of vocal give and take that's fun to hear. It's as if Maria McKee had ditched Lone Justice in 1987, and joined a pop metal band on LA's Sunset Strip instead.
"Mouthful of Love", "El Camino", "Tommy Shots", "Sick of Doing Time", and the fabulous "Misty Rowe" have the band nailing that male-female dynamic perfectly, as the rest of the band tears through each song. Nowhere does this formula work more perfectly than on the glorious "Starlite". It starts off with a little homage to "Won't Get Fooled Again", then goes into a flat-out AC/DC stomp, Chris Hodge's vocals making this sound like an American version of the Datsuns, which is a bit on the ordinary side, but still good enough. But then that chorus comes in, sung by Stephens, belted out at the top of her lungs ("I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm ali-ive yeah!"... talk about the perfect chorus to a summer anthem), and this song is instantly transformed into something completely different, as it eventually climaxes with a transformation into a twisted hybrid of '80s L.A. hard rock and a gospel revival, Hodge and Stephens singing together, "I gotta feel like a man/ Don't you understand?" It's one of the best rock songs we've heard in ages, and if this doesn't become a mainstream rock radio hit by the end of the year, there is something seriously wrong with the world we live in.
Mouthful of Love is very blunt, and it's not going to change the face of rock music. Even at a paltry 30 minutes, it still comes close to repeating itself, as you find yourself wishing the band utilized Stephens' vocal talents even more than they do, and the mellow, acoustic "Mary Jane", an attempt to change the mood for a few minutes, grows tiresome. Its straightforward style will make some people cringe, but there are plenty of people who will absolutely love this album, despite its imperfections. If pretenders like The Datsuns or Jet just aren't doing it for you, if you laugh at the kids in Heavy Metal Parking Lot because you were once just like that, or if you secretly listen to Kix on your iPod on the way to the office, then this one's for you.