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Friday, January 29, 2010

CD Review: Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe 2

Rob Zombie - Hellbilly Deluxe 2
2010 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

The mind of Rob Zombie must be sometimes too much to contain on any given day. Being a horror-imbued renaissance man with his pocked roles as rocker, director and in-demand show host plus animation creator and voiceover provider, Rob Zombie must suffer from self-afflicted mind-rape from time to time. If you caught his Halloween II redux in the theaters last year, you'll take note he revamped the ending for the DVD release, disowning the original sequence in the process. Admittedly, the new finale works better. Shortly thereafter, Zombie announced a controversial departure from industry powerhouse Geffen Records in what appeared on paper to be a sudden late-minute signing to Roadrunner Records.

Zombie just recently fielded the director's helm for a single shot episode of CSI: Miami, thus extreme multitasking has to be considered part of the terror mogul's DNA as he's managed to squeeze in some studio time with his band. Granted, it's been four years since Rob Zombie released Educated Horses, which came in the midst of his ascension to prominence in horror filmmaking. It doesn't mean Zombie sat on his musical laurels while shooting two Halloween films and reaping continued accolades for The Devil's Rejects. His El Superbeasto cartoon being yet another project intervening the recording of a new Rob Zombie album, he's road dogged continuously on multiple tours, the last of which debuted a handful of preview tracks from his latest offering Hellbilly Deluxe 2.

In some ways, this album is a tough nut to crack. One wants to point fingers of accusation for slapping Hellbilly Deluxe 2 together in a hurry, largely because it's only a sequel album in name compared to the 1998 original. It gets off to a sluggish, nonsensical start with a Zombie prototype toe-tapper "Jesus Frankenstein," which unfortunately gasses out before it gets revved up. The following cut "Sick Bubblegum" is supposed to be a central focus song for Hellbilly Deluxe 2, yet it suffers the low common denominator element from more gratuituous outlays of the word "motherfucker" than both of Zombie's Halloween flicks put together. Repeated ad nauseum during "Sick Bubblegum's" screechy chorus, it's monotonous and grossly uninspired.

On the other hand, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is quite fun in servings. The industrial-laden mod jive of "What?" really bobs and gets the ankles jerking. Listening to Zombie fuse some vocal distortion ala Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers really lends a cool shtick to the raucous feel of "What?" "Death and Destiny Inside the Dream Factory" is Hellbilly Deluxe 2's other punchy jam which really takes a wide berth from what Rob Zombie normally churns out musically. Its abbreviated two minutes of punk is smartly delivered, leaving the listener wanting more of that particular tune.

Otherwise, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 crawls in its unpretentious salute to EC Comics and Creepy magazine. You know what Zombie's motives are on this album and the largely mid-tempo slither appears all part of the master plan. Sometimes this works to Zombie's designs such as the slinky and groovy "Burn" or the mudbogged, swamprat sluice of "Werewolf, Baby!"

Unfortunately, "Mars Needs Women" could've used more pep in the lyrical department, not to mention a little more tempo stamping for it to work, this despite a cool acoustic intro, which Zombie and John 5 are beginning to discover a creative nexus together utilizing. The song boasts the meanest riffs of the album from John 5 and Piggy D, yet with the minimalist and overly-cautious beat laydown from Tommy Clufetos, you largely focus on Rob Zombie droning the title chorus and thus it feels like "Mars Needs Women" is stuck at worm portal which refuses to suck you in. "Virgin Witch" is at heart a Sabbathy doom tune with its menacing sludge and it's up to the listener if Zombie and his party posse pull it off.

Zombie and John 5 do have a good time penning a nifty surf tune with "Werewolf Women of the SS," but the latter part of Hellbilly Deluxe 2 deserves a bit of closer examination. "Cease to Exist" is the album's smartest-written tune as it lauds a classic Alice Cooper feel with a Pink Floyd-esque intro and outro. It's a genuinely progressive song which Zombie flexes his vocals sharply and while "Cease to Exist" builds, climaxes and fades, it somehow feels like unfinished business. If Rob Zombie wants to keep thinking in terms of sequels these days, there just might be room for a "Cease to Exist 2."

Hellbilly Deluxe 2 wraps with a puzzling stamper "The Man Who Laughs," which is graced by Bernard Hermann-esque violin swipes overtop the song's power chug. The main riff set really deserves its own spotlight and could've been left on its own merits to wrap Hellbilly Deluxe 2 confidently. Strangely, the song tries too hard to become a prog epic, complete with an orchestral bridge, followed by a prolonged Tommy Clufetos drum solo. The former fits nicely; the latter, not so much. It dallies and interrupts the headbanging throb "The Man Who Laughs" well establishes, even with a reprise of the main riff chords at song's end. Then again, Clufetos, who is one the hardest head smashers in the business, has been largely relegated in this band to a primary tempo pattern where he's forced to set off steady 4/4 lines with a predictable bump-da-da-bump rolls on the ends. At least Rob Zombie gives him a chance to light up his sticks, ill-advised it may be on this song.

No one's going to deny Rob Zombie has his dream stable well-entrenched. Keep this lineup happy, Rob, whatever you do. They rock, bottom-line. Nonetheless, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is more of a brand recognition act, not that Rob Zombie needs the publicity at this point in his career. Overbaked at times, undercooked in others, this album is about tits, booze, cursing, high wattage and monster mashes and it does become a good, jam-baked outing from time-to-time. Rob Zombie is a zealous and energetic entertainer, but in intervals Hellbilly Deluxe 2 comes across like it needs a lycanthrope's bite in the ass. That, or a power nap to get recharged. In fact, once Zombie realizes one day he should take a short break before his teeming head explodes like in Scanners, who knows what he'll be capable of once he's fully rested...

Rating: ***


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