Royal Trux

Pound For Pound (Drag City)

Royal Truxstruggles with a rep as clumsy, junkie noise merchants, developed during its early days a decade ago. It hit the world with a one-two punch of records that were both very difficult but in very different ways and thus frightened away most while alerting the sympathetic and curious to a pair of clever, contrary cusses to watch. The band's only mainstays are singer Jennifer Herrema and singer-guitarist Neil Hagerty, Jon Spencer's former partner in Pussy Galore. But forget that, because Royal Trux's wide world of sound is so much grander than Spencer's jokey formula-mongering with his Blues Explosion. By coming across as rock theoreticians in public pronouncements and liner notes, Royal Trux played with the popular assumption that a record as fucked up as its 1990 double LP, Twin Infinitives, could only be a joke or an intellectual project.

No way to settle dilemmas of sincerity versus shuck, but by applying Ockham's razor, we come to the simplest explanation of the Royal Trux phenomenon: Rather than smirking scholars, the band members are skilled, passionate, and dedicated rock-noise classicists who know that, although it's been done before, it can still be a hell of a lot of fun to play with.

Hagarty and Herrema's (frequently overlapping) strained throats mumble and shout through songs that are usually quite wordy but use voices to provide smart, stylish swagger more than easily discernible stories or messages. But they have a way with the mysteriously evocative rock phrase, throughout Pound For Pound giving listeners such treats as "You're just a summer love/But I'll remember you when winter comes," and "Whenever Johnny gets a headache/ He better look to the east/'Cause I'll be coming on a red horse with stars in his teeth."

Trux regularly makes the sort of rock-myth records the Rolling Stones would be making if their passion, skill, and sense of form hadn't largely abandoned them 20 years ago. Pound For Pound is not Trux's best -- some of the lolling jams strain the attention span, and a few tracks miss the pleasure button -- but looking back on what's shaping up as a long and varied career, it's one more solid contribution.

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