Royal Trux – Veterans of Disorder (Domino)
Available Nov 18th 2013
The adventurous late 90’s classic from Jennifer and Neil is back in the shops and it’s aged well, reports Glenn Airey.
British youth, you might remember, spent most of the 1990s deciding whether they preferred southern art students in Adidas or northern beer monsters in Kappa. In the United States, however, a rather different musical dichotomy was being played out. The corporate and underground rock camps spent the last decade of the Twentieth Century in an extended game of cat and mouse following the unexpected windfall precipitated by Nirvana’s breakthrough and the grunge-flavoured beanfeast that followed.
The career of Royal Trux – essentially Pussy Galore old-boy Neil Hagerty and sometime Calvin Klein model Jennifer Herrema – exhibited most of the hallmarks of this elaborate courtship ritual. They lived and worked in the lo-fi avant-garde, but would be tempted overground on occasion by the considerable financial freedoms on offer to such a talented and, it has to be said, photogenic couple. Crucially, though, they insisted on following their artistic instincts irrespective of the kind of recording contract they happened to be sitting on at any given time. They veered between punishing experimentation and relatively straightforward, alternative rock music for both indie and major labels. Indeed it wasn’t unheard of for them to visit both ends of the listenability spectrum within the same half-hour LP, and hence their legend and credibility remain intact.
The basic Trux sound was a slurred, heavy-lidded appropriation of the Rolling Stones in their decadent 1970s glory. Straddling DC and San Francisco, however, their take on the Stones represented a post-punk reclaiming of wasted American rock from the hands of Mick, Keith and co, the original R&B magpies. Every Trux record reeks of gasoline, hot dogs and low-slung jeans that never, ever get washed. The duo’s devotion to the Stones (and to Keith in particular) led Neil to instigate a full re-recording of Exile on Main Street in his Pussy Galore days, while he and Jennifer conducted a fascinating interview with Johnny Depp‘s piratical old man for Raygun magazine in 1995.
The Exile link is an important one. It’s the spirit of the Stones’ 1972 classic that permeates pretty much the entire Royal Trux catalogue. That album’s looseness of playing and proto-slacker emphasis on mood over songwriting prevail. And a similar sense of scale and adventure, playfulness and ambition elevates Trux records above the Stones-worshipping crowd, even today.
In 1999, Neil and Jennifer were twelve years into their mission and presented us with one of their finest works. Veterans of Disorder is an apt title for what I calculate as their eighth studio album. As willful and uncompromising as ever, they took us on a whirlwind tour of their ‘hood as the millennium bore down upon a fidgety world. For no discernible reason in particular, Domino have chosen this month to reissue it and I have to say it’s aged well. In fact, it sounds better than ever to me, distance perhaps lending some helpful perspective to what at the time sounded like a rather too-disparate bunch of recordings. It actually hangs together very successfully.
Things start off simply enough with Waterpark, one of the catchier entries in the Trux songbook. The spiraling guitar hook and Jen’s punchy vocal capture a good-time vibe that you kind of know isn’t likely to last. Sure enough, from here on in, things do de-focus considerably in true Exile fashion. Stop and The Exception stretch out elegantly like it’s a long hot afternoon in a French chateau. Then energy levels rise again and Second Skin gets more frantic. This pattern of uppers and downers (drug talk is kind of unavoidable where the Trux are concerned I’m afraid) continues with the wonderfully louche, if unfortunately named, Witch’s Tit. There’s an exoticism here that surfaces again in Lunch Money and Yo Se, two poly-rhythmic chant-based tracks that in a sense are not much more than outlines of songs, but which conjure powerful moods and demonstrate that this is a band who experiment in order to remain productive and not for the sake of it.
If Veterans were simply to play out in this fashion, it would leave itself open to accusations of patchiness. The intriguing trio of tracks that close the album, however, all reach out in different directions and contribute to a very well-rounded release. Sickazz Dog features Jennifer counting and intoning over a shifting, drifting landscape of found sounds and rolling toms. Coming Out Party sounds like a deranged Trux take on a jazzy Tom Waits vignette, while closer Blue is the Frequency rewards the patience of the guitar-heads among the fan base as Neil lets rip for nine minutes, restoring some of the hard-rock balance that aficionados of the band’s more trad output might have been missing.
If you were too young the first time round, or if you just weren’t paying attention, Veterans of Disorder is a fascinating place to start exploring one of the key 90s underground guitar bands. Bear in mind, however, that this is just one part of a much richer jigsaw. For the rest of us, this is an opportunity to get a nice new copy. Maybe even on vinyl. It was a bugger trying to get hold of that in 1999.
3. The Exception
4. Second Skin
5. Witch’s Tit
6. Lunch Money
7. ¡Yo Se!
8. Sickazz Dog
9. Coming Out Party
10. Blue Is the Frequency
Royal Trux can be found on Twitter @Royal_Trux but be warned, it’s a bit exclusive.
You can check out Stop from Veterans of Disorder here