Critics' Picks

The Makers

In the past few months, The Makers have gotten unprecedented hype even though their act--like most of those that get relatively huge in the world of college radio, record-store employees, and alternative newsweeklies--is neither new nor particularly spectacular. Beginning early in the '90s, they put out some wild records on Bellingham, Washington's Estrus Records, the sleaziest and surliest of garage labels. Their reputation is one no PR rep could even hallucinate; for years they toured in a 1964 hearse and got banned from venues, sometimes even entire towns up and down the West Coast. Word is, they were banned from every basement and bar in their hometown by the time their second LP was out.

They've released 10 albums in the last nine years, but the two albums The Makers have put out in the past 24 months have each gained momentum and recognition beyond the original gimmick. No longer are The Makers good only for mockable trash-rock, fun while it lasts but gone faster than a greasy boyfriend with a wandering eye. Their last record on Estrus--1998's Psychopathia Sexualis, a palatable, giggly, and grown-up affair--was a clear precursor to the slicked-down concept album, Rock Star God (yes, really), released last month on Sub Pop, damn near the most white-collar of independent labels. Divided into two parts, narrated by ex-Dead Kennedy-cum-presidential candidate Jello Biafra, Rock Star God varies between insignificant and commendable. Part One, "Knives, Needles, Bullets, Blood," shows an eminent, put-together rock band in action. Part Two, "How Hard Is Your Heart?" shows the grimy underside to fame: drugs, despair, and of course, dead girlfriends.

The album falls short where it's most expected: The storyline slumps into meaninglessness, especially toward the end. Or maybe I just stopped caring about the boo-hooing and was satisfied with the Rock. In between vocalist Michael Shelley's growls and swoons, guitarist Jamie Frost's black-leather guitar handling, a roomful of miscellaneous girl backup singers, horns and strings, and a pounding rhythm section, there's no space to make fun. Five minutes after Biafra's voice-overs, my thoughts aren't on the tortured workings of the players, but wondering why I like this, thinking about the goofball lyrics (The Makers on suicide: "Try to avoid dying near the toilet / every asshole in town will be talking about how you died of constipation / just remember try to look good / and have fun with it / it's the last cool thing you'll ever do") and how foxy Shelley and his backup singers must look onstage. Then again, that's probably the point. The soap opera is actually a better reassurance of irony than, say, not-quite tongue-in-cheek liner notes.

Being female, I'm sure there's a lot of Rock Star God that goes way over my head. (Note to self: Big hair may help.) Of course, it's sexist--duh. Objectifying is one of the things that rock and roll is best at, right? I don't care. It's much more fun to hear, "I want to pack her like a suitcase," than some line like, "Girl, why'd you go away?" (Although I'm sure Shelley could make it sound quite nice.) The Makers' appeal to rock fans and critics alike bears heavily on their testosterone fuel. Like Ween, The Makers cash in on adolescent crudeness. I lost count on the macho euphemisms, but favorites included: "endless bolts of black lightning," and "You played the sports car / I played James Dean."

Out of boredom and curiosity on a bus trip, I bought an issue of Rolling Stone for the first time in years at a gas station last weekend. Maybe that magazine has always been that glossy and inane, but from the looks of it, rock and roll is nowhere to be found on the radio, MTV, or the media right now. Even in the mainstream underground, kids are buying introspective, melodic records or flocking into the disgusting disposability of rave culture. The remaining rockers from the heyday of pop metal have turned on their fans, or turned out music so horrible that even the diehards can't stomach it. The Makers are waiting.

Amelia Abreu