Sweet Sixteen A Royal Disappointment

Royal Trux had a lot to live up to on Sweet Sixteen. Due to a

mixture of Neil Hagarty's (mainly in)famous past work

with Pussy Galore, and the exciting whiff of unabashedly self-destructive,

hard-ass Royal Trux had an image based on equal parts talent and myth.

Seeing how strong they are balancing on one foot, Hagarty and his partner, the

pointedly trashy Jennifer Herrema, try

doing away with some of their image ("We're not just a dope band,"

Jennifer explains in a press release about an album littered with song

titles such as "Morphic Resident"), try acting a little more vulnerable,

more willingness to get involved, and see how far their musical talent can

take them.

They would get the exposure they needed from Virgin, who signed on

Sweet Sixteen due in part, no doubt, to ridiculous expectations for

anything that has the whiff of indie and/or authentic credibility. And so

Royal Trux took a long look over the side of the mountain and decided to

see if they could fly. It must have been amazingly thrilling to jump off

the side like that, and it must have hurt like a mother-fucker when they

hit the ground.

The result sounds kind of what you might expect Van Halen to sound like if

you hadn't heard them in a while. The album's opening track, "Don't Try

Too Hard", begins with some high-fat cream cheese keyboard lines augmented

by Hagarty's pyrotechnic, and utterly lifeless guitar solos. With Hagarty

and Herrema combining to disingenously sneer out lines that sound as

unconvincing to the listener as they seem to have been as incomprehensible

as they must have been to their authors. "Put up and shut up / cheap it's

only skin / Trying hard trying stupid / You'd never discover / what kind

of jam you're in." Oh. Right.

The previously mentioned "Morphic Resident" sadly shows the album's opener

is no aberration. Laced with Hagarty's schoolboy-virtuoso lines, Hagarty

and Herrema somehow manage to at once emulate and mock Axl Rose's nasal

cries with lines a fourteen-year old dope addict should be ashamed to

write in his journal. "When I first met you I / didn't understand the game

/ Now I don't have to / cuz you've given me a name," Hagarty and Herrema

whine, and this is one of the more expressive lines in the song.

Which is too bad, or at least disappointing. Hagarty, Ken Nasta on drums,

and Dan Brown on bass all know their shit, and every now and then have

some interesting musical ideas. Hagarty's wah-wahed solos actually sound

good against the song's string section. But the trio seemed to have lost

their ability to tell good from bad so long as there's some technique

involved; at times, Brown sounds as if he's trying to audition for Bruce

Hornsby's band. Which is fine. But I'd venture to say that neither Bruce

or Neil would claim to have all that similar musical visions, and are

probably looking for pretty different qualities in their musicians.

In the end, the album numbs the listener with a dangerously alluring

mediocrity. Sweet Sixteen isn't a flat out horrible album--their are

some decent moments and some fun, albeit metal-ish riffs--but coming from a

band that was supposed to have potential to make something really good,

you're left with a combination of disappointment and frustration at

yourself for expecting more.

I suppose Sweet Sixteen can be used a basic textbook example of

consistently, even good guitar playing with no place to go and no sense of

how to get there. Combining overt inspiration from bands from the Stones

to Sabbath to the Black Crows to Janes Addiction to Weather Report

(sometimes all on the same song, e.g. "10 Days 12 Nights") Royal Trux show

ample ability, but no sense of where to take it or what to do with it.

"Pol Pot Pie," the album's final track, is, after all is said and done, a

mildly pleasant surprise. Beginning with gently strummed acoustic guitar

with rhythmic hand drums built over it, the song is actually not bad until

H&H's sing/sneering come into play, and is not totally ruined until it

goes electric and gets all predictable and cheesy. Which is to say, I

guess the album isn't a total waste-- now perhaps that's the message of

the toilet-bowl on the cover filled with a non-crappy looking type of