Rock and Roll Report Focus is on Louis XIV – Slick Dogs and Ponies

Louis XIV
– Slick Dogs and Ponies
Atlantic Records

There is one truism about rock and roll that cannot be denied: just as soon as rock and roll was invented, people have said rock and roll was dead. Think about it! Sure, you hear about it mostly as the overused cliche of a title of a bunch of songs from rockers like Lenny Kravitz and a few others who think they’re hipsters by singing about the demise of the very music they make their money. But consider these facts: after Elvis hit big people said it was a fad and rock and roll was dead, then when Elvis went to the Army people said rock and roll was dead, when the Beatles hit people said it was a fad and rock and roll was dead, when disco hit people said rock and roll was dead, when punk hit people said rock and roll was dead, when schlock corporate bands like Foreigner and Journey were selling millions of records people said rock and roll was dead and on and on and on. Sometimes, it was hard not to believe rock and roll was, in fact, dead. I think anyone who has been involved with music within the past fifteen or so years hasn’t wondered about it being a little passe, out of touch, past its’ prime – whatever you want to say. Rock and roll might not have been dead, but there’s been no doubt its’ felt way under the weather.

Then along comes Louis XIV (quite regal, isn’t it?) proclaiming themselves to be the Saviours (Kings?) of rock and roll. While many have proclaimed only they could save the fallen rock and roll and restore its’ luster, most were pretenders trying to use the hype to pad their pockets full of the commoners’ money and then steal off into the night only to return with weaker and weaker albums, betraying their fans and rendering their boasts bad jokes. Though none but the soothsayer can tell the future, if track record can be counted on Louis XIV might be the one act able to bring rock and roll back from the brink of ruin. Not that they care. This trash-rock band of heathens might be happier riding the last rock candy wave straight to oblivion, after all the ups and downs they’ve been through.

Louis XIV started their rock and roll reign as an band named Convoy. While not really garnering any attention except for the tons of critics who adored their album Black Licorice and hoped they would record another album (in fact, there is another – their debut album which they self-released a year before Black Licorice) featuring the band’s cool mix of roots rock and gritty roll, the band nonetheless slogged it out on tour for two years until the deafening silence of the public demanded they pack it in. Still, the core of the band stuck together and tinkered with their musical focus a bit. By 2003, vocalist/guitarists Jason Hill and Brian Karscig and drummer Mark Maigaard hooked up with a different bassist, Jimmy Armbrust, to start a new band celebrating the glam rock sound and raunchy glitz of bands such as T-Rex, The Rolling Stones and The Faces. Combining raunchy subject matter with a musical tapestry weaved from equal parts 70’s NYC punk, early-’70’s Rolling Stones and some T-Rex-ian glam, the band immediately started winning fans with their energetic stage show and sealed the deal with a self-released EP in 2003. Internet buzz got the band some press overseas and the band continued to release more material to keep the buzz going. After playing the requisite big-deal musical fests, the band was signed by Atlantic Records and released their first record, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, in 2005. While not a best seller, it was a sturdy little record that brought the rock in its’ own little sleazy, swaggering way.

Their new record does the same thing, and it is a decent improvement over their last, though much darker in tone. Gone is the lyrical lasciviousness, replaced by a bleak and strung-out worldview that seems designed to depress. The ragged and raunchy guitars are relegated to background positions while gloomy strings and vocals augmented by choir singers rule the day, making a band once great at snappy, braindead rawk sound defeated and beaten. Ballads plod as if the band couldn’t stand making them and there are hardly any punchy, uptempo rockers to be found. Maybe they planned it this way. I mean, if the band was planning to make a “mature” album on a par with Exile On Mainstreet then I can give it to them for trying to stretch themselves, even if the album fails to meet that standard. If the band is just tired and wasted, though, then I wonder why they released this album at all. The fans they’ve gathered from their last release probably won’t get into this disc, thinking it was going to be the same fun, goofy, non-stop party their first disc was. I am hoping it was the former, seeing as they’ve changed focus before, taking their onetime roots rock glory and turning into sweet, nasty glam goodness. What they’re aiming for here is definitely different, though not bad. Just…different. More interesting (and telling) will be where they take it from here. If they are able to take it anywhere – this album sounds like the last salvo from a band ready to split – so we shall see.

Fans of true rock and roll, the kind bands like the Rolling Stones, Kinks, and T-Rex play, will no doubt enjoy this album, despite its’ faults. Louis XIV have a way of deconstructing rock and roll, distilling it down to its’ true ingredients, its’ raw power – and then building it back up and unleashing it on record and, more importantly, in their live show where they kick more ass than a hundred Jackie Chans. This is different, so be prepared, but is not bad. Shit, it may end up being catagorized in the same rarefied air as Exile. The Stones’ masterpiece was misunderstood when it was first released as well, so I think the jury is still out as to the importance of this disc. Check it out and form your own opinion.

Scott Homewood