Tito Larriva is the very definition of a rock 'n' roll journeyman. His stints with influential but obscure L.A. bands like the Plugz and the Cruzados long ago established his credentials as a roots-rock true believer, a guy long on heart if a bit short on fresh ideas.
Now, after plugging away for a couple of decades, Larriva finds himself in the unlikely position of being a hip alt-rock flavor of the month, largely because of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The Austin, Texas, director gave Larriva memorable roles in Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn, the latter featuring Larriva with Tarantula, a band he accidentally formed out of some friendly jam sessions.
The band's first album suggests that Larriva has learned much from both his cinematic comrades and the recent expressionistic recordings of L.A. homeboys Los Lobos. Like Los Lobos, he's figured out a way to make gutbucket blues licks sound futuristic and ambient with the right production touches. From Rodriguez--who actually gets a co-production credit here--he seems to have discovered an actor's approach to vocalizing.
For instance, on the album's swampy opener, "After Dark," Larriva tries out a melodramatic Bryan Ferry croon that's completely affected, yet beautifully scary. The raucous "Slippin' and Slidin'" (in which Larriva does a perfect Bon Scott impersonation) offers a lesson to the Stones that you can sound thoroughly modern without desperately trying to ape what's on the charts.
Unfortunately, Tarantism gets dragged down a bit by the kind of journeyman rock that has always limited Larriva. "Smilin' Karen" is by-the-numbers metal, and "Sweet Cycle" could be an outtake from U2's The Joshua Tree. Numbers like these would probably work in an elaborate Rodriguez film sequence (preferably with Salma Hayek), but they seem kinda naked and dull on disc.
The Holdover is more like it. Ex-Guns n' Roses/Candy axman Gilby Clarke does everything you're not supposed to do in this press-driven notion of postrock America. He uses the dreaded "r 'n' r" words in a song title ("It's Good Enough for Rock 'n' Roll"). He covers already overexposed classic-rock nuggets like "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and "Hang On to Yourself." He writes his own faux-Ziggy rock-star anthems like "Mickey Marmalade" and "Captain Chaos."
Guilty on all charges, Your Honor, but somehow you just can't bring yourself to send this likable journeyman rocker down to the cooler. Why? Because Clarke's fervent belief in the therapeutic powers of the rock and the roll makes even its most dog-eared cliches seem somewhat endearing, das why! You wouldn't make fun of someone for believing there's some old bearded man in the sky playing interplanetary chess with our lives, and, dagnabbit, you shouldn't knock Clarke's religion, either! Sure, you can probably up your hip quotient by digging the latest electronic brain truss, but to a kid practicing mirror moves, two turntables and a microphone can't quite match the cool of a guy wrestling emotion from a silvertop Les Paul. And as this album proves, this obsolete man can play. The Hangover may be old hat, but at least it won't hurt your head.
Love Spit Love
Comparisons are an odious pop-journalism inevitability: Wherever there's a Lloyd Cole, there's some lazy-ass journalist saying, "It's like Leonard Cohen!"; wherever there's a Mark Eitzel, some hack-for-dollars is going, "Oh, it's the new Dylan"; and wherever Richard Butler may lie, some jerk wordsmith will say, "Blah, blah, blah . . . Bryan Ferry." Daft stuff, yes?
Eighties postpunk-cum-teen-movie pop guns the Psychedelic Furs gave birth to the whorehouse priest Richard Butler. At his best (1981's Talk, Talk, Talk), Butler was a Warholian rock star founded in dime-store Burroughs and Velvet Underground aesthetics. At his worst ('87's Midnight to Midnight), he was a paint-by-numbers narcissistic video drone eaten alive by pop-star vanity. But he never quite had the elegant eloquence of Sir Ferry, aside, perhaps, from the Furs' last, the hit-and-miss World Outside (which yielded three of this decade's most memorable minutes, with the lovely and soaring "Until She Comes").
Following the demise of the Furs' marginally successful tale, Butler returned with Love Spit Love. He delivered a somewhat spotty self-titled debut on Imago, only to be juggled and dropped as that label went the way of the Great Record Company Crash of the '90s. Now, three years later--and when one would have thought it was glue-factory time for Butler and his melodic nicotined huff--Love Spit Love is back with a near-perfect pastiche of pop, topical pap and organized noise: From the obligatory Furs-ish guitar-bass-drum sucker punch of "Long Time Gone" to the almost baroque "Believe," the choruses sing, the verses throb and each song is sturdy enough to stand on its own (gosh, Irene, imagine that!).
Before, Richard Butler's lyrical stock-in-trade was never suffering fools gladly, but here his growth as a singer and songwriter is impressive and diversified. On "November 5," he downs a meal of Keats and croons: "A summer's end autumn breeze/The winter is at your sleeve/The leaves have all gone/The windows are filled with frost"--a bit of whimsy, indeed, considering the source is a self-confessed cynic who once sang "I won't hold your hand/I won't give you flowers/I just wanna sleep with you."
On this album's best song, "It Hurts When I Laugh," the melancholia is so thick and the voice is so rich, the words are inescapably believable--you can almost see Butler staring out his window down to St. Mark's Place and watching: "Don't wanna see the sun before tomorrow/Anne's got to sleep that's all I see. . . . I haven't got a thing but what I'm wearing. . . . It hurts when I laugh/It hurts when I speak."
Trysome Eatone is one of the year's best and certainly most incongruous albums (that a man like Richard Butler can have a career in rock 'n' roll after a steady diet of too many books, cigarettes, drinks and Charles Aznavour). God bless him and the Love Spit Love horse he rode in on.