By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Last Beat Records
Cris Mess sings like a young, pissed-off Billy Idol (circa Generation X), but you can't help noticing that this album sounds like it has been preserved in a time capsule for the last 20 years; the question of nostalgia arises like a hangover from the night before. Right on time for the big punk rock "revival" that made even the Sex Pistols break their promise, it makes you wonder if Mess' appeal is a product of look-away longing for a bygone age--even for people who are too young to be nostalgic of anything--or the realization that the more things change the more they stay the same.
Whichever the case, Mess compensates by playing like a bunch of escaped maniacs who beat up their daily blues with a three-chord sledgehammer. Cris Mess opens his jugular and admits that he's an "Emotional Wreck," drowning his sorrows in "Goldschlager" and "Jim Beam." His unhappiness has been caused mostly by "Holly" and "Shiloh," but he bears very little grudge: "Ashley," the cool hooker, is OK. Still, ol' Cris is "Goin' Mental"; Pretty Ugly is pretty autobiographical.
As far as subject matter goes, these songs about girls and booze are no different than, say, Van Halen. What makes Mess your essential local talent is its lack of pretension and naive belief that this is punk rock, and it can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. Only on a superficial level? Not a concern: by sheer determination, Mess makes Pretty Ugly a lot of fun, almost celebrational. The liner notes toast Johnny Thunders, Stiv Bators, and Darby Crash--all hard rockin', hard livin', hard dyin' casualties--as model figures. Maybe they wanna be like them when they get older. For now, their ardent idealism is admirable, especially when they back it with catchy tunes. They wanna get out of this mess and battle it out like Israeli commandos; even better when they dish it out live and inebriated.
These days punk rock is as dangerous as a Dalmatian puppy; still, Mess marvels at its baby teeth. With Pretty Ugly, they party like it was 19__ (Insert glory year of your choice).
The cover of Gut--a huge, hairy belly--is like an old Saturday Night Live skit with Dan Aykroyd as a fat plumber with a gruesome butt-crack: funny, in a juvenile way. That seems to be the extent of the Soup's aim on their freshman effort, which finds them embracing the slacker ethos, yet without the earnestness of Mess and--more importantly--the poppy hooks. Most of the songs here are unimaginative and sloppy, plodding along murky ground between pseudo-punk and flaccid Texas boogie. Maybe this is all about celebrating ugliness, but what about the cheeky smiles of the band members on the insert?