In a world where emo and nu-metal are in vogue and sensitive guys across the country are scrambling to prove who can be the biggest pussy, any effort to make a straight-up rock record should be lauded. On their latest offering, Local H try very hard—perhaps a little too hard—to recreate the type of big rock that was commonplace in the days before Blue Oyster Cult and AC/DC became jokes. But for all its faults, Here Comes The Zoo still manages to sound like what Aerosmith might’ve evolved into had they not allowed song doctors and A&R men to start calling the shots.
Chances are you might remember Local H from their annoyingly catchy tune, “Bound For The Floor” (a.k.a. the song that brought the word “copasetic” back into usage). Chances are you might’ve listened to the rest of the album, As Good As Dead, and written the band off as grunge lite. Fair enough; that’s a pretty accurate description. But if you listened closely, you would’ve noticed singer/guitarist/everyman Scott Lucas’ knack for crafting clever self-deprecating lyrics. Honestly, I just can’t resist gems like “If I was Eddie Vedder / Would you like me any better?” and “You’re just a walking billboard / For all the latest brands / You’ve got no taste in music / And you really love our band.”
Local H followed up As Good As Dead with the near-brilliant Pack Up The Cats, a tongue-in-cheek song cycle about the pitfalls of rock stardom. It’s a shame that Island Records was bought out and the new suits in charge felt that this album was unworthy of support or promotion, as mainstream radio could’ve benefited from adding some of these catchy tunes to their playlists. Listen to “All The Kids Are Right” and tell me that doesn’t deserve to be a hit single. And in my humble opinion, its opening lines (“You thought that we were great / Now you think we’re lame / Since you came to the show last night / You hoped that we would rock / Knock it up a notch / But rocking was nowhere in sight”) have yet to be surpassed for amusement factor.
Nearly four years later, Local H has finally returned. With a new drummer and a new label, the band seems reinvigorated and ready to set cities aflame with rock n’ roll. Opening cut “Hands on the Bible” is the type of track that makes you raise your fist in the air and yell, “Fuck you, mom, I’m going to rock out till my ears fall off!” Yeah, the song kicks your ass that hard. Needless to say, this song excited me in the most ridiculous ways, suggesting that what lay before me was an album chock full of guitar riffs seemingly forged by Zeus himself.
Sadly, the rest of the album fails to deliver on that promise. “Half-Life,” “5th Ave Crazy,” and “Creature Comforted” are all great rock songs on their own, but never manage to crawl out from under the immense shadow cast by “Bible.” “(Baby Wants To) Tame Me” and “What Would You Have Me Do?” both start off with potential but then commit the mortal sin of hitting the nine-minute mark. I’m sorry, Local H, but your name is neither Zeppelin nor Floyd. Keep ‘em under five minutes.
My biggest complaint is that the album is never as clever as their previous efforts. Lucas seems to be unfocused and at times (gasp!) taking himself too seriously. Luckily, he’s too talented to not have his moments. On “Rock And Roll Professionals,” a satire of bloated arena rockers, he sings, “When the rock and roll professionals roll into town / You know they’re well paid / They’ll meet you and they’ll greet you / And after the show, some of them will get laid / Press the flesh / And maybe they’ll make nice / Press the flesh / But only for the right price.” Lucas still has the touch; he just needs to stop trying to color outside the lines.
While Here Comes The Zoo falls considerably short of what it could’ve been, what it is will nonetheless get your head banging in a nice up-down fashion. Legendary producer Jack Douglas, whose seminal work includes Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy, ensures that this disc sounds amazing; after all, high fidelity is very important to a big rock record. And while the riffs may not quite be heaven-sent, they still carry a mighty rock wallop. How much of a rock wallop? Take Paw’s Dragline and merge it with the Queens of the Stone Age’s Rated R. That should give you a good idea. If it doesn’t, this album probably isn’t meant for you. And if it seems like I’ve used the word “rock” a little too often in this review, well, it’s because there have been too few records lately that give me cause to throw that word around.