RTX CD reviewed by James Jackson Toth

Music Reviews
RTX CD reviewed by James Jackson Toth
Dec 24, 2008, 16:18



Jennifer Herrema has always made most male rockers look like goofy posers. Even during her time in Royal Trux—still the greatest rock band America has ever produced—Herrema managed to wrench more righteous rebellion from a single guttural sound than Sebastian Bach did in an entire career. On her band RTX's latest, the confusingly titled JJ Got Live RaTX, Herrema continues to move ever closer to rock royalty.

Opener “You Should Shut Up" opens with spiky synthesizer stabs straight out of a Bon Jovi ballad. On second thought, it kinda sounds a little like "You Got Lucky" by Tom Petty with George Brigman playing over it. But then the drums kick in and this kiss-off gets spiky, complete with talk box and a snare sound time-warped over from Dial MTV circa 1988. The gossip-inclined among us might find it hard to ignore the fact that this tune could certainly be about former partner Neil Michael Hagerty—"I got my pride / That's something you can't take credit for." Ouch, either way.

On last year's Western Xterminator, Herrema slightly altered the lyrics of Fang's “The Money Will Roll Right In” to announce that she wanted to fuck Vince Neil—now she sounds just like him. "How'd You Do It" could be a Theatre of Pain outtake if it wasn't better than anything on that album, "Home Sweet Home" notwithstanding. And speaking of covers, while the Fang cover proved that Herrema still knows a good song when she hears it, JJ Got Live RaTX keeps with this tradition with a balls-out version of the Barbarians' cripple garage classic "Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl."

"Cheap Wine Time" is the obligatory 'power ballad' here, RTX's first, by my estimation. It's literally impossible to imagine Hagerty playing on this. This is not to either Herrema or Hagerty's discredit, but a testament to the singularity of Herrema's tenacious reinvention following the split. The song itself is equal parts Some Girls and Faster Pussycat, with Herrema's trademark growl pitched somewhere between Wendy O. Williams and Tanya Tucker. "Hash" is thornier than the others—the opening riff is more Testament than Trixter. Also, dig this chorus: ‘Fuck that / We don't give a shit / It's our prerogative to act like this."

Nothing on JJ Got Live RaTX is understated. Every song is presented in all caps, bold print, and ends with exclamation points. You know, like Exile on Main Street, Appetite For Destruction, and every single Who and AC/DC record ever made, for starters. For someone who spent a good part of her adult life involved in a band who counted Ornette Coleman as a primary influence, the fact that Herrema is able to wrench these songs out of her band is evidence alone of her sublime talent.

As for the production, gone are most of the treatments and murk that made previous outings impenetrable for some. This clarity would signify a newfound confidence in the arrangements here, which is well deserved. Sure, there are still vocoders and treated vocals, and the Jan Hammer-conjuring outro to "Mr Wall" is some real deal bizarre even for someone with Twin Infinitives on her resume, but the sheen of these songs reveal exactly what a great writer Heremma actually is beyond the image of her as a self-styled animal pelt-wearing surf-hesher. This is, after all, the gal who wrote “Waterpark,” for goodness sakes. Show some goddamn respect. [Drag City]

- James Jackson Toth


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