I keep a tin of mints in my car for my daily commute, a daily addiction of sorts. Better perhaps than cigarettes or something more toxic, but an addiction nonetheless. Usually, in between all the gear changes, I’m downing mints with the fervor reserved for a Friday drink after a long week. The other day I ran out of mints, then the traffic got bad, and this, and then that. It was one those days where the most infinitesimal of problems becomes an escapable avalanche of frustration. And as insignificant as they are compared actual problems, they become significant because we make them significant. Escape came from ten songs; songs of hope, despair, introspection, and life. They are the lifeblood that makes up Dave Hause’s new album, Kick, the next chapter in his glorious trek through America’s rock n’ roll heartland.
Hause, the lead singer of The Loved Ones (the American one), is no stranger to the genre either. The Loved Ones proved that heartland and punk rock could have a symbiotic relationship, one that would bring rock n’ roll’s blue-collar roots together with punk’s urgency and attitude. Through his solo work, he has pursued a genuine, down-to-earth Americana spread across now four full-length releases. Songs of loss, songs of aspiration and songs that have tried making sense of all the stops and starts of life. His music has always come with honesty and adept songwriting synonymous with the genre’s historic names. But speaking in more contemporary terms, Hause’s work has the kind of magnetic resonance that solidifies his name amongst the current crop of greats like Brian Fallon, Justin Townes Earle, and Jason Isbell. Kick is his best work yet, distilling the unending trials and tribulations of today- post-election divide, depression, global change, and the changing face of the American dream- in 10 bluesy, punk saturated, rock n’ roll songs.
As the opening chords of “Eye Aye I” chime in, there is an immediate uplift in mood. Perhaps it is the Mellencamp-
“The Ditch” is a windows-down, highway driving song, buoyed by the carefree spirit of rock n’ roll vagabonds, while “Saboteurs” takes its mid-tempo composition from more restrained confines. It’s got a very New Jersey sound but its glorious refrain takes cues from the big, almost orchestral tones that were made famous by The Who. As the song “Weathervane” kicked in, the traffic hadn’t gotten any better. And there’s something ironic about being stuck in traffic to a song whose up-tempo melodrama sings of “spinnin’ in a middle of a hurricane / spinnin’ like a weathervane now“. But it is Hause’s swaggering vocal delivery and confidence over stomping choruses and melodies that turns small ironies into glorious musical sketches. They soar over highways giving you that feeling even if you’re stationary.
If those songs weren’t enough to provoke a serious amount of reflection, then the beautifully serene “Fireflies” surely will. The song is stripped back, mostly just Hause, his guitar, and his harmonica- but it echoes with the heart and reverie of a thousand sunsets; a reminder that sometimes you don’t need anything else but a great voice and a guitar.
Missteps are a rarity, spare the occasional like “Civil Lies”, where heartland is replaced with more alternative soundscapes. And while Hause does his best Chris Cornell, it doesn’t quite vibrate with the same magnitude as the rest of the album. Those pickings are small and in the bigger picture, Kick is a wonderful album, a fine examination of soul-searching amongst political and personal discord. Hause has shown poise and grace in his introspection. Some of his musical contemporaries seem burdened by an immense pressure that weighs down their music- you can hear it when you listen to Brian Fallon’s Sleepwalkers. Hause on the other hand, still sings about life’s hardships and the success and failures of growing old but does it with this unmatched spirit. Three chords and a back beat is all you need they say, and with Kick Hause has found a way to embrace it and sing like it will all be OK in the end, even if it really won’t. I’m still stuck in traffic, still don’t have mints, but after these 10 songs, I’m OK with it.
Alice Cooper – Breadcrumbs EP
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper
For a large number of Alice Cooper fans who didn’t experience everyone’s favorite snake-adorned shock rocker at the height of his powers through the ’70s, most probably were introduced to Cooper through 1989’s hair-metal infused generational breakout album Trash. That was at least, my introduction to Vincent Furnier, at the age of 9 years old, seeking for something to satiate my love of hair metal and shock rock. Trash was everything Bon Jovi’s New Jersey was- big, radio-friendly- but had that added sense of danger and darkness that didn’t come with the pretty side of hair metal. However, as sure as songs like “House of Fire“, “Bed of Nails“, and the ubiquitous hit “Poison”, are still great today, long-time Alice Cooper fans know that Cooper is at his most enthralling is when he taps into his garage rock lineage, cut from the same mold that was paved by bands like the MC5.
So for those born in the early 80s like myself, the initial foray into the world of Alice Cooper meant that you had to work your way back into this long-running discography to find the rich, often timeless work Cooper is best known for. In 2019 Alice Cooper himself is working his way back on his latest EP, the aptly titled Breadcrumbs. The 6-song EP finds Cooper revisiting music and artists connected thematically by what ties them all together- the Motor City. This Detroit-centric EP features Alice Cooper’s take on songs by Suzi Quatro, The Dirtbombs, Motown soul singer Shorty Long, and of course, The MC5 (the EP also features guest guitar and vocal work from Wayne Kramer). Included in the mix are a reworked version of the 2003 Alice Cooper song “Detroit City” and one new cut, “Go Man Go”.
On his reworked “Detroit City”, the song is given a rawer makeover, sounding far less produced than the original. Gone are the orchestral overdubs with the song relying more on the loud bluesy guitars- perhaps the way it was meant to sound. Suzi Q’s “Your Mama Won’t Like Me” stays fairly faithful to the original, but Quatro’s vocal sneer is replaced with.. well, Alice Cooper’s vocal sneer. MC5’s “Sister Anne” is almost as great as the original 1971version, with the added benefit of today’s production qualities.
The EP’s one new track, “Go Man Go”, is very much Detroit, and very much Alice Cooper. It’s rock n’ roll roots are coated with a little bit of rockabilly, a little bit of garage, a lot of attitude. Like this EP, the track should be a precursor of Alice Cooper’s anticipated next album. The hope is that he continues this work of keeping things dirty rock n’ roll as the results are more often than not, pretty great.
Few frontmen of rock will ever be as enigmatic and as timeless as Alice Cooper. Breadcrumbs is a noble effort meant to tease and build anticipation than satisfy your craving for all new Alice Cooper material. It’s done just that, hinting at what could be around the corner. On top of which it shows that there are few rock stars who will ever reach the status and longevity of everyone’s favorite rock n’ roll snake charmer.
Goo Goo Dolls – Miracle Pill
The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good
One of the most remarkable things about the Goo Goo Dolls is their steadfast consistency amongst the ever-changing backdrop of popular music. Six years ago when they released Magnetic, I wrote that the band remained unchanged in the face of their supposed “waning popularity” in the eyes of pop culture and radio charts. It’s true that many of their contemporaries that made it big alongside them in the late 1990s are long gone, but for the Goos, they’ve quietly continued to be above everything else, themselves, just older, wiser, and continuingly more refined. Miracle Pill is their 12th studio album and is the natural progression from 2016’s Boxes. Like their previous release, Miracle Pill continues their musical evolution away from alternative rock to the more serene territory of adult contemporary. Sure, it may sound like a bad thing, but like everything the Goos have done over the past 25 years, it’s supremely confident and composed.
They may not write songs with the caustic bite like “Here Is Gone” anymore, but they have been finding comfort in the more introspective pop-strewn melodies found in songs like “Lights”. Similarly, in the new album’s lead single and title track, the Goos tap into bouncy, easy-to-digest pop empowerment. Songs like “Indestructible” show that the band haven’t put down their guitars just yet, constructing songs that are still fond of their alternative rock roots but have found comfort in grander, more expansive sounds.
The album’s best moments are when the Goo Goo Dolls unashamedly tug on the heartstrings like they’ve done so many times before. The quiet jangly nature of “Over You” does this particularly well, while the bigger, electronic-infused arena rock of “Lost” shows that this type of music is just done extremely poorly by bands like Imagine Dragons. “Autumn Leaves” is a throwback to the kind of songs found on Let Love In and Dizzy Up The Girl, sounding organic and wistful, while the closing of “Think It Over” is the kind of song they’ve been hinting at since Something For The Rest Of Us. It’s part quintessential Goos, but contemporary and timeless at the same time.
Credit to the Robby Takac songs of the album too- “Step In Line”, “Life’s a Message”- both some of the finest songs Takac has written. He is often cast in the shadow of John Rzeznik’s more recognizable sound, but on Miracle Pill, his work is the best its sounded since Dizzy.
The Ringer recently wrote a piece titled ‘The Goo Goo Dolls Were Never the Cool Kids, but They’re Still Standing’. I echoed these sentiments in that Magnetic review years ago, but if there was anything long time Goo Goo Dolls fans know is that the band were never concerned about popularity or being “cool”. The problem with being cool in music is that it fades. The Goo Goo Dolls have always just written good music for people who cared only that the music was good. Not much has changed in that sense, and really, that’s much better than being cool.