uring the past few years, garage-rock duos have seemingly come out of every nook and cranny, sometimes crafting something new, but often just confusing stripped-down with innovative. Most of these duos, or at least the ones having met with any kind of success, have blended the Detroit garage sound with a blues influence. With the announcement that Jon Spencer (Pussy Galore and the Blues Explosion) and Matt Verta-Ray (Speedball Baby) were becoming a dirty duo, it was easy to expect more of the same.
Fortunately, they're on a whole other track with their self-titled debut. They've turned instead to Charlie Feathers as an inspiration, and have taken the rockabilly tradition to its essentials. They also use a substantial number of guest musicians and multiple tracks to fill their songs out to more of a full-band sound. When Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats took a similar approach, they polished the sound; Spencer and Verta-Ray go the other direction by keeping it as dirty and aggressive as they can. Lyrically, they match the vibe that rockabilly's always had by keeping the sex and drinking up front. In throwing in some murder and some over-the-top desire, they also draw out the alienation and loneliness at the root of the expression.
"The Loveless" gets right to it. It opens with a guitar hook that Eddie Cochran would have been proud of and then shifts into a traditional rock-blues shuffle. Spencer sings, "They call me the Loveless / I'm a mean son of a bitch / They call me the heartless / Baby, I don't give a shit." As the music jumps, the vocalist boasts of his coldness, his biking life, his clothes, and how greasy he is. The claims run from self-parodic ("I'm so greasy") to funny ("I got my name on the back of my shirt") to intentionally ridiculous (he's "drinking gasoline"). But he gives some of himself away, too, connecting his trip to Vietnam to a later crash that left him with an artificial leg. It's a hard life, so fuck it—he'll be tough.
In a song like "The Loveless," Spencer and Verta-Ray employ self-referential lyrics and effects (such as the motorcycle and siren noises) that allow them to simultaneously reveal and play with the codes of rockabilly. In creating their one-legged biker son of a bitch, they mock a type of the '50s, but they also pay homage. This type of signing could wear thin quickly, but Heavy Trash are always interested more in making rock 'n' roll than in playing the po-mo cards. They're being reckless, even if they're studying their craft.
"Gatorade" shows the boys at their most unsuccessful, crafting an ode to cunnilingus that lacks the subtlety or humor of the best nudge-nudge-wink-wink music (to call it "suggestive" would imply allusiveness, as opposed to near directness). Not that it isn't a fine topic, but without sexiness, humor, or insight, "Gatorade" is just a puerile visit to the locked bathroom. "Justine Alright" handles horny, rocking youthfulness much better, instilling both music and lyrics with energy, until eventually the title lady causes our ever-ready narrator to "make [his] pants all wet."
And that's essentially what this album's about: some drinking, some sexing, and some rocking. For the most part it's smart without being clever, and it never slows down without throwing some lyrical twists, and even these low-tempo respites keep the atmosphere. Heavy Trash is here to fit certain moods, and facilitate certain fantasies. Serve with beer and cigarettes.