Too Much Guitar
In The Red
ince boy bands and hew-hawing rockers were drowned in 2001 by a wave of garage rock, the music industry has pushed hard to find musical acts encompassing any elements associated with the genre. Regardless of merit, most bands featuring dueling lo-fi guitars and primitive recording techniques—or the "vintage" simulator in an effects processor—have been swiped by labels and are currently enjoying respectable album sales at both Target and hipster record store hangouts. Heck, why shouldn't labels continue rekindling the garage rock fire, even if it is with crumpled, damp newspaper?
So when reports began hyping a to-be-released "even more neo-garage rock-oriented" Reigning Sound album, one feared the worse for the Memphis rockers. Luckily, like most albums from bands who play guitars and listen to old music, Too Much Guitar does bear some similarities to the White Stripes side of garage rock, but is much more than a bandwagon hop on the rehashed movement. Instead, passionate front man Greg Cartwright stays true to the authentic, blue jean rock and roll that the group released on two previous albums.
A large part of it is in the savagely raw production. Each instrumental track redlines the limitations of a reel-to-reel recorder, matching the primitive ferocity of the Stooges’ remaster of Raw Power. The mix sets the vocal volume well below the rest of the instrumentation, allowing the power of Cartwright's throaty strains to compensate for the volume deficiency. "We Repel Each Other" opens the album with a controlled frenzy of dirty guitars and drum pounds that rip through Cartwright's screams, leaving behind bloody shreds of often unidentifiable vocals.
While the sound of Too Much Guitar is saturated with raunchiness, beautiful pop melodies often shine through the brutish production. Cartwright has a Scott Pollard effect on the music, bringing clarity to the unpolished production while never wussing out. With the savvy front man at the helm, Reigning Sound remains rough while being accessible enough for the ears of grandma and gramps. Possibly the best song of the album, "You Can't Give Me Everything" layers the angst of Cartwright's vocals over a bed of smooth harmonica and hammer-picking, as the sincere front man tells an old flame, "if you can't get me everything, don't you get me nothing at all." The major keyed number trots along like a pre-Rubber Soul track, using overdubbed harmonies and pretty rifts to bob listener's heads for a much-too-short 2 minutes and 43 seconds.
But also nestled within Too Much Guitar are a few moments that run long. In defiance of the title, guitar solos occasionally ring with little inspiration or simply do not ring loud enough at all. Though this is mostly due to the ying-yang effect of the production; its glorious intensity can run so high, so hard, that there is occasionally no space for the guitar work to shine. Other minor complaints include the Alice in Chains acoustic guitar work on "Funny Thing" and a few other riffs that hit a bit too close to past greats.
Still, little can take away from the moxie and sheer enjoyment supplied throughout Too Much Guitar. If you’re in the market for an answer to the sometimes-lackluster garage rock offerings, Reigning Sound might be just what you're looking for.
Reviewed by: Kyle McConaghy
Reviewed on: 2004-08-26