Out Here

Shaken, not stirred
It's Martini Time
Reverend Horton Heat
Interscope Records

From the cover alone--a woman passed out on a barstool in the dark--you know that It's Martini Time is no "have fun responsibly" bulletin, but another collection of chrome-plated tales from a ducktailed world of indulgence and excess: the world of the Right Reverend Horton Heat (a.k.a. Jim Heath). The album starts off as predictably as any happy hour, with Heath swinging out of the speakers, gibbering demonically as he rides a curtain of guitar sounds that are purely electric--as defined by Duane Eddy and Link Wray. Heath howls and bellows over a titanic staircase of climbing chords, leading up to a song about, about, about...

A red car. You could dismiss it as another slice from the Social D-style pie--basic rock pumped up a bit with punkish aggro and fast-freight time signatures--but it's pretty much a whirling vortex of influence, the root musics like rockabilly that first informed punk come back again, this time with the punkery built right in.

At least Martini avoids the studio-buffet indulgences that marred Liquor in the Front, the Rev.'s much-ballyhooed and equally debated Interscope debut of 1994, produced to some degree by spooky Chicago industrialist and silly-hat aficionado Al Jourgensen. Liquor continued the psychobilly formula for what Heath calls his "fast drinking music"--short, sharp rave-ups mixed up with genre definitions like country weeper--but often festooned with noisy electronic bunting a la Ministry, et. al.

On that album Heath came across like a bright kid who'd just discovered some really cool stuff and just couldn't keep his hands off of it; on Martini, he's calmed down. He's managed to develop an identifiable style that's still flexible enough to change; this time he's tilting toward the hipness of cool '50s jazz, up to and including the final half-song, half-monologue, "Showbiz," a cut that is destined to become everybody's signal to take the disc out of the changer.

There are also the expected nods to lounge and swing; "Crooked Cigarette" sounds like some sort of walking blues done by Black Oak Arkansas, while songs like the anthemic "Time to Pray" and the impatient, chant-driven "Now, Right Now" almost sound British. Guitars tower ominously over Martini's soundscape, dripping echo; it's all mood, 'tude, and momentum, so it's doubtful that fans fault Heath for a certain reliance on cliche. He has a "big red rocket"--uh-huh--and wants to "rock this joint." Mmm. Not exactly new, but after the sheer novelty weirdness of the troubled Liquor, simply maintaining your position is a victory. Jim Heath--like many of us holding up bars during martini time across the country--manages that, at least.

--Matt Weitz

 
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