By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Shed your skin
For Those With Contempt
Word on the street has it that the bright and talented Lone Star Trio committed artistic and commercial suicide by abandoning its roots. Its sudden shift from a bona fide rockabilly band--heir apparent to cat daddy Horton Heat--to a nondescript heavy rock outfit estranged quite a few fans and onlookers, as if the roots of Texas music end where cars stopped having tail fins.
Somehow you get the feeling that Matt Hillyer got a little tired of being part of the trendily rolling rockabilly bandwagon and decided to jump before it crashed further into caricature. Perhaps he recognized that it's no hipper to be a '50s revivalist than someone who digs that old '70s boogie-racket, or maybe he just chose to get his ya-yas out the ZZ Top way. At least For Those With Contempt sounds like it.
And what a title! Strap seems hellbent on some kind of revenge against its detractors, the three musicians approaching the new material with an almost predatory fierceness. From the opening riffs of "Buzz Killer," Strap is dementedly determined to prove that this is a brand new band, take it or leave it. Forget Ronnie Dawson or Carl Perkins or whoever echoed in their previous incarnation. Instead, think Foghat, Deep Purple, hell, even Motsrhead. When Hillyer spits out "I represent/Those with contempt/For people like you" on the title track, you can hear the chip teetering on his shoulder.
Strap's still dealing in nostalgia, but for the times when Van Halen and Bon Jovi roamed this land in indecently tight pants and species like Bush and Live had not been manufactured yet; there's no whining or post-Cobain pseudo angst, and Strap's no-frills approach is quite refreshing in that sense. Hillyer's often juvenile "bad boy" self-portrayal in "Lover Man," "Safe Haven," and "Bad Seed" sounds more convincing now that the bass is electric and the amps cranked up to 11.
His songwriting has also improved: Outside the stylistic and thematic confines of rockabilly, he can stretch out into longer songs like the sarcastic "Everybody's All American"--"I'm the great white hope/I'm the boy next door/My dad is a congressman/My mom is a whore/...I'm everybody's all American/You can't complain, you're just like me." (An answer to his detractors?) The break-up song "See You In the Next Life" balances heartache and good humor, while the thrasher "I Represent" is additional proof that now he has more to say.
For Those With Contempt is no kind of betrayal; it takes talent and nonchalance to make such a drastic change, and Hillyer, Berg, and Antonopoulis walk out of it unscathed. The trio still cooks up a mean brew, especially if hard rock is your cup of tea.