Shortly after the 2006 release of Soft Targets, I was introduced to Earl Greyhound by a friend who said something to the effect of, “You have to check this shit out.” I did indeed check that shit out and it was some of the freshest 1970s retreading I’d heard in a long time. Earl Greyhound traffic in an excellent combination of 70s stadium rock and 1990s Lollapalooza stoner rock. Doesn’t sound like it should be an appetizing dish, I know, but Soft Targets was a tasty treat. It was an underrated guitar rock record, the sort of thing I might use as a critical palate-cleanser when wading through myriad new releases and reviewing them for the loyal fortyish people who read Bollocks! five days a week. That is, it was an easy, fun listen that didn’t do anything new but also didn’t do anything wrong.
Proving that they’re in no mood to fix what ain’t broke, the Brooklyn trio is back with Suspicious Package, an album that is maybe a little more hippie-dippy than Soft Targets was, but is still carried by three musicians who play with fiery fucking abandon. There’s nothing new under Suspicious Package‘s sun, but it’s breezy retro fun, loud and stupid the way the best classic rock is (see AC/DC for evidence). Singer/guitarist Matt Whyte makes up for his tendency to sound like that flowing-shirted dipshit from Maroon 5 (especially on the croonier tracks) by tossing off Guitar Hero-ready riffs with the ease of a seasoned garage-jammer, while drummer Ricc (Two c’s? Really?) Sheridan and bassist/keyboardist/other vocalist Kamara Thomas keep the rhythms galloping along. If you liked Soft Targets, you will like Suspicious Package, as long as you don’t pay too much attention to the lyrics.
Like Blitzen Trapper’s Furr, Suspicious Package is strong on catchy melodies and simple-yet-effective instrumentation but a little goofy lyrically. We can probably just let “Shotgun” stand as a prime example and move on. You don’t listen to this kind of music for lyrical poetry, though; you listen to it while you’re rippin’ high. Which invites another Blitzen Trapper comparison; though both bands might deny it, at their best, both Blitzen Trapper and Earl Greyhound make pretty perfect stoner music. While I myself am not a stoner, I have a great affinity for the pot-smoking people because I feel that, in a nation of prescription pill-popping, Jaeger-and-Red-Bull swilling alcoholics, the weed folks get a raw deal. The best stoner rock, though, should be enjoyable to the non-toking public, which is where Blitzen Trapper failed with this year’s Destroyer of the Void; they forgot to make it interesting to people who don’t smoke their weight in weed every day. For the most part, Suspicious Package keeps it brief and always musically interesting. The vocal interplay between Whyte and Thomas adds a dimension Destroyer of the Void lacked, despite the fact that Blitzen Trapper has several capable singers.
The other great strength of Earl Greyhound is that they seem more earnestly lodged in the past than their retro-brethren – where bands like Jet are merely interested in selling the past (Remember their total “Sexy Sadie” ripoff? The one called “Look What You’ve Done”? Wasn’t that song fucking stupid? I mean, you can defend it if you want, but John Lennon and I will be waiting in Hell to beat some sense into you), the folks in Earl Greyhound seem to genuinely identify with the flower-power and bell-bottoms lifestyle and I’m not gonna give them grief for that if they keep making albums as aurally exciting as Soft Targets and Suspicious Package. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the retro thing is a fickle mistress. Plenty of bands fuck it up (why, hello there, Brian Setzer!) and some bands do it just about right, like Earl Greyhound and Oasis on What’s the Story, Morning Glory. I think where bands go wrong with the retro thing is that they try a little too hard to represent the era of their infatuation. Brian Setzer is downright pathetic with his 1950s greaser shtick and I think the Gaslight Anthem ought to be in counseling to address their overwhelming desire to be Tom Waits listening to Born to Run on a bus ride through the Midwest at midnight (where the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn is somehow the bus driver). But Earl Greyhound is honoring their record collection without ever wearing it like a Halloween costume, and that’s really just a roundabout way of complimenting them for keeping things as unassuming as possible. I’m guessing that’s why I hear as many nods to the Pixies on Suspicious Package as I do to Led Zeppelin.
Suspicious Package, along with (probably) the Living Sisters record, is a compelling argument against the year-end best-of list that every critic busts out at the end of every year. Allow me to explain: I don’t think Earl Greyhound has made the best album of 2010, in any musically quantifiable way, but Suspicious Package, much like it’s predecessor, is a whole lot of fucking fun. Every time I hear “Oye Vaya” (Spanish for “Go Hear”, according to Google Translate – as you can tell, we do exhaustive research here at Bollocks!) or “Out of Air”, I feel like I’m hearing the music Lenny Kravitz has wet dreams about making , but he lacks, by a damn sight, the musical chops to pull this stuff off. Kravitz is probably worse than Brian Setzer, by the way, because Kravitz released a couple of shitty singles, a shittier cover of a shitty song, posed for some photos, and had himself declared the next Jimi Hendrix. Brian Setzer is at least a poor (or stupid) man’s Mike Ness (if you don’t know who Mike Ness is, go get the first Social Distortion record. Right. Now). Anyway: I couldn’t honestly tell you that Suspicious Package is one of the best records of the year, but I’d be pretty surprised if you like rock music and didn’t find something on this album to entertain you. And if you are a true-blue stoner, I’m sure your dealer will just stash a copy of Suspicious Package in your next dime bag.