By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Forget all that modern-day high-tech jive about the Internet, file-swapping, sampling and digital downloads for a minute. When all is said and done, there is nothing new under the sun, and what sells in rock and roll is the same old threesome: sex, swear words and shock value. Custom, an artist whose debut, Fast, is the first release on the Web site-derived ARTISTdirect label, uses a liberal dose of all three S-words, which may be why the first single is doing so damn well. "Hey Mister" is a dirty little ditty in which the singer tells a man in excruciating detail just how he (the singer) likes to (radio edit) said man's daughter, and it's been a smash success on alternative radio, as well as earning the ultimate accolade of being banned on MTV.
The catchy little number does much to explain the bidding war that surrounded this New York City-based artist (real name: Duane Lavold) last summer. But "Hey Mister" is deceptive: Despite its ultra-blue content, it's not musically groundbreaking or even sexy--not compared to Britney's belly or Prince's beats, that is--and the same goes for the rest of Fast. Custom himself is one of those one-man shows, stuck in a studio twiddling the knobs, like Todd Rundgren or the aforementioned Prince, but a bit more puckish--or do we mean Beckish? Either way, he's just the latest in a long line of callow young white guys singing sincere songs about their immensely shallow lives--a genre that's currently being inhabited by acts like Kid Rock, Everlast, Sugar Ray and, of course, blink-182, and which doesn't really need more adherents.
Happily, compared to blink, Custom's music is a wealth of imagination, utilizing a pastiche of sounds, samples and those whooshing guitars that somehow always sound English to American ears. Lyrically, his record stars the antics of a suburban young man whose inner world is made up of girls, skateboarding and the clichéd types of existential angst that goes along with life in These United States. On "Mess," for example, he sings, "I'm a messed-up kid with a messed-up head, driving this wreck of a life through all the yellows and reds...'cause my messed-up parents messed up and had me/If you want something totaled, just give me the keys." The album's centerpiece, the lengthy "Morning Spank," gets a bit heavier, as it narrates a typical teen melodrama: "There's no piece of ass worth a friendship/A friend doesn't bang another friend's girlfriend/Dude, but dude, I don't know what to say...I'm a fucking idiot."
And so on. If all this makes Custom sound tediously self-involved, well, he is--although one can pretty much say that about anyone and rock. I could easily see him becoming popular with the vast majority of guys who can relate to his glib take on life. The songs go down easy, although they are quite cleverly arranged, and he clearly has a way with melody. He also has an unremarkable voice, which is stretched a bit thin across 12 songs. Prior to releasing this record, Custom had a burgeoning career as a filmmaker and extreme athlete; somehow, Fast gives one the idea that he might go back to either at a moment's notice. No great loss.