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Black Bananas - Rad Times Xpress IV

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Artist: Black Bananas

Album: Rad Times Xpress IV

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jan. 24, 2012

Royal Trux divorced with a thud back in 2000 A.D. The presence of that band — and the relationship between its two primary members, guitarist Neil Hagerty and vocalist Jennifer Herrema — was a much-needed corrective to steer the conversation back toward what the best rock & roll had been known to exhibit, and an object lesson in how to make it believable. And they came at this through a left-hand path of functionally broken rock music, which they were able to distill into folk, then bluesy rock, and finally a mutation of the sound you might find in an arena concert in 1983, only it was 1998 and their version of it could beat your ass raw right through the speakers. They did this all on their own, and with the help of Drag City (and for a while there, Richard Branson) as well as a few crack session players. This band was a fucking live wire when it wanted to be, and now even their most-maligned works stand out for the gems they were.

The split has been discernable in both halves of their post-Trux work. Hagerty has released a guesstimated 1.1 albums annually since 2001. Each one is unique and special, and deserves more words than it’s gotten (it’s coming, I didn’t forget). Hagerty’s paths are a lot smoother now, though the music remains a challenging endeavor; he’s got space, and room to run with how he wants his music to feel. Herrema’s half went by the name RTX, the three best letters in Royal Trux, and an implicit promise that she was going to deliver on that name. I saw them play once, to about 20 people at the kind of show a promoter takes a bath on. All I remember from the show was the smoke machine, and unmooring it to shoot directly into the crowd, and the sound guy coming over and threatening to toss me out if I “monkeyed with that shit one more time.” Their first album, Transmaniacon, is as plodding and surface-level as any hair/metal rehash you could hope for, winking yet strange, and at a time when bands like The Darkness were bringing it back with confidence and success. It was like Airheads-level bad.

But you know what? Ms. Herrema was part of a really great band for a really long time, and that’s something I didn’t forget. I sought out RTX’s next two albums on the off chance that something new might need time to grow. Sure enough, both Western Exterminator and JJ Got Live RaTX delivered everything this music needed to thrive — the riffs were back, the songs were just weird enough, it all just worked in abstract and odds-defying ways. Even still, I always wondered how Hagerty and Herrema were able to coexist in music after the split, knowing that one was blatantly riding on the experience they had created together, and how that must have felt. Maybe the eventual name change was etched in stone.

So now we have Black Bananas, which is essentially RTX, and with it a new opportunity. Rad Times Xpress IV all but tells you that this is the fourth RTX album. What a fucking dud this is, though. Maybe Hagerty heard it and got his lawyers on the phone to make them change their name. It’s the RTX formula, the one that worked so well when kept like a secret, given the cartoon treatment. Real drums are replaced by computers (which dick everything up), bass rumble and farty synth torture stick to the frame of these weak songs like Silly String left to dry overnight. They need to inject some sort of grittiness into their new electro-glam-rock-disco hybrid, which sounds like a Zapp record soaking in Bud Light. This sort of thing flew back in ’94 with Beck and the Dust Brothers, but now, forget it. Stock AOR moves are regulated with beats and bounce, squiggly and flatulent, smelling like nutsack in the unforgiving August heat. Its appropriation of G-funk hooks and production is really off-putting, and makes me wonder exactly who this record is for. Are there fans of this shit? Hollywood hanger-on types? Volcom execs? Filthy, sentient Keith Haring drawings that ask you for spare change? Certainly not young people — they don’t want to hear Funkadelic, and they definitely don’t want some old person to tell them why it matters, which seems like the first lesson to be learned here. Too much to unpack, really. It’s also the kind of record that sounds really intriguing on laptop speakers but, when put to the test on really good studio monitors, its power dissipates significantly, and everyone involved now takes one huge step backwards.

By Doug Mosurock

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