After Grunge, What? Grudge -- That's What.

Nirvana's heirs apparent?

What is it about Zion, Ill., that brings out the formalist in its

musicians? Zion is equidistant from where I grew up and where I live now,

and I was there once as a teen on some crappy beach. It was unmemorable, so

I have no clue if there's something in the water that inspired a terrific

formalist band like the Shoes. Maybe the chutzpah or pretension or whatever

of coast-dwellers and the myriad cultural resources available to them compel

them to create where heartlanders content themselves with tinkering. And

maybe all Japanese people can only improve rather than invent.

Anyway, Local H are Zion's other great formalists. If the Shoes

took the Beatles' Rubber Soul (or the Raspberries' Starting

Over) as their

formal imperative, then this power duo takes Nirvana's Nevermind as

theirs, working endless variations on the grunge the way blues musicians

willingly imprison their every song within 12 bars.

This strategy can manifest itself in a musical moment as simple as

briefly stopping dead in the middle or stopping the tape at the end of

"All-Right (Oh, Yeah)" or as complex as fusing "My Sharona" with that

terrible "Wild Wild West" song by the Escape Club for the party-stomper "

'Cha!' Said The

Kitty" and still having it sound like Nirvana's "Negative Creep." A Queenly

harmony pops out of the mix in "What Can I Tell You?" Several songs have

false stops.

Nothing altogether earth-shattering, but Pack Up The Cats wouldn't be a

formalist album if it were earth-shattering. Given these tendencies, "what can

I say that you can't say better?" (from "What Can I Tell You?") is then not

some miserable alternative trope -- it's the band's motto. And you can even

become your own formalist with the aid of your CD remote. Try switching to the

next track at one of the false stops or ending "All The Kids Are Right" after

the last two guitar blams before the trick ending. You won't die if you miss

it once.

The primary way you can tell Local H and Nirvana apart, however,

is that no one ever would have made it this far in a Nirvana review without

mentioning

Kurt Cobain. That's because Cobain's shattered personality was too there in

the music; to make sense/use of the music was to make sense/use of Cobain

himself. By contrast, you don't get a clear picture of who frontman Scott

Lucas is by listening to Pack Up The Cats or, rather, knowing who

Scott Lucas is isn't so intrinsically bound up within Pack Up The

Cats. It's

that wise, old disappearing act commonly found in disco acts (and mastered by

New Order) that's as much a reality of Alternative 1998 as "Smells Like

Teen Spirit" was

of Alternative 1991.

And right about now, lest I get accused of dividing things into two

facile camps of pure meaning and pure form, I should mention that if

Pack Up The Cats

has a meaning, it's how definitively it surrounds this reality. This is the

album that best captures the feelings of betrayal and disappointment and

despair that have plagued Alternative Nation since Cobain's death, wholly

instituting a new genre: grudge, instead of grunge. Its academy fight-song is

"All The Kids Are Right," which oscillates at a much higher level of

specificity than the former academy fight-song, Everclear's "So Much For The

Afterglow." Foreseeing Local H's eventual demise, Lucas sings the saddest

little melody: "All the kids, they hold a grudge/You failed them and they

won't forget it."

Yet the song wouldn't be half as potent if Local H kidded

themselves about what they're doing. As they say in "Hit The Skids Or:

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Rock," "I love rock-n-roll

but that'll change eventually." Maybe so, but it's refreshing to hear a

grunge band love/hate

grunge instead of themselves for a change. I adore albums like Pack Up The

Cats because, just like the Shoes' Present Tense, it validates

my obsession with music. Sure, my obsession with myself needs equal

(if not more) play, and thus I carry albums like Nevermind and,

especially,

In Utero within me at all

times. Now and then, though, whenever I wonder just what in the hell I'm

trying to pull off making a career out of writing about pop music, I'll put

on Pack Up The Cats for some extra reassurance. Then I'll put it away

and won't think of it again until the next bout of doubt. Maybe that's why

I can't

remember (quite dissimilarly from the Melodians in "Rivers of Babylon")

what happened on that beach in Zion.