Mighty Dogs

It's hard to tell what's Spinal Tap and what's not

In the heavy-metal game these days, it's hard to tell what's Spinal Tap and what's not. When a musician puts a cucumber in his pants, is it hilarious or just painfully true to the genre?

And when a group thinks up song titles like "Iron Cock" and "How Delicious She Looks," and publishes them under the name "S.T.A.B. Music," you expect its concerts to make This Is Spinal Tap play like a tragedy in comparison.

Except that the guys behind these particular song titles, the Buck Pets, maintain hair styles that don't point to the constellations. Neither do the Buck Pets have W. Axl Rose's face tattooed on their butts. Nor do they cover those butts with tight swatches of leather.

In fact, think of the opposite of all heavy-metal's cliches--the dress-to- excess to impress, the personal hairdressers, the carefully planned L.A. pay-to-play showcase dates, the scientifically balanced sweet 'n' tough power ballad--and you have the Buck Pets.

The Buck Pets, you see, chill on the just-as-popular, albeit more subtle, punk-rock cliche. That is, the one where you get your ever-patient mom's permission to play in the house, crank out rock 'n' roll really noisily with heaps o' sincerity and virtually no stylistic adornments, and get signed to a major label.

Indeed, the way lead guitarist Chris Savage tells it, the Buck Pets have been purists since they formed in Dallas in 1985.

"That was always the deal, just to throw it out and see what happens," says Savage in a recent phone interview from Dallas. "I think we used a fog machine once. Lots of people use all that stuff, and they end up relying on it. You get used to kicking back by the amps, drinking beer and watching the light show yourself."

Even if the Pets didn't surround themselves with show-bizzy trappings at the start, they weren't any less upwardly mobile. Quickly figuring out that the Dallas backwoods was no place to cultivate a serious rock 'n' roll career--not to mention no place to land a major label deal--the Buck Pets hit the road a few months after their first gig on New Year's Eve, 1985.

"We got tired of playing to the same people every night," Savage says. "That eventually forced us out on the road.

"We still don't play here much. Dallas has never been a very important city to us. You can invite your mom and dad to see you here, and they'll say you're great. When you get out on the road, you find out whether you're any good or not.

"You end up playing together as a band better in two shows on the road than a month at the practice room back home."
And the Buck Pets haven't forgotten the hardest-working-band-in-show- business cliche, either--the one in which said band plays untold numbers of unforgiving little joints all over the U.S. and Canada. "Pool halls in the South, things like that," Savage remembers. "It was the back-up bar band kind of thing. That's why we started playing loud, so nobody could do anything but listen to us. They weren't very good shows."

Eventually, the Pets acquainted themselves with an Island A&R woman who'd been hanging out in Dallas. The label signed the band in spring of '88 and included one song, "Snatch Rap," on a Dallas compilation album. Ironically, Savage calls the tune "our worst song," a ditty the fellas had given to Island because they expected to sign with a different label.

In any case, it wasn't long before Island shipped them to the Bahamas to record with a producer who had probably seen anything a band could throw at him. Dial twister Ron St. Germain has worked with a bizarre assortment of acts, including Mick Jagger, Whitney Houston, and Bad Brains.

St. Germain and the Dallas dudes apparently kept the punk-rock motif way up in the mix during the recording. Savage has said most of the material on the album was recorded live within two takes.

Playing this kind of stripped-down rock 'n' roll is something of a gamble, to be sure. Play it too reserved, and you end up sounding very Middle American, like a cut-rate Bruce Springsteen. Churn it out too frenetically, and you get stuck flailing away at hard-core whose time has passed.

On The Buck Pets, the band actually manages to find the elusive blend of the conservative and the anarchic that groups like the Replacements have perfected. The disc does indicate the band's potential to play rock 'n' roll that means something for at least a few more albums before getting soft in the middle like all their hard-rockin' forerunners. But just to give the record that Nineties feel, the Pets affect an occasional Seventies thud-rock attitude--the kind Jane's Addiction and Soundgarden have employed so well in the postmodern era.

But expect the band to lose the stylistic flourishes on its next LP. After all, the Buck Pets subscribe to the theory that the best rock 'n' roll is organic.

"It'll be more of a straight-to-the-point kind of thing--no extras," Savage predicts. "Everything will have its purpose. Some of the stuff dragged on a bit on the first one. Instead of just your basic Bryan Adams ten-song deal, we'll put on fourteen or fifteen, I hope. A lot of shorter songs. No five-minute epics.

"We want to move on. We've always been about change."
Yes, revolution by anarchy. It seems the Buck Pets are just young enough to still believe in--or be fooled by-- the punk-rock dream.

OOPS! THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD ... v1-10-90

 
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