In the liner notes to Big Black‘s posthumous live album Pigpile, guitarist/singer Steve Albini wrote, “Lyrics seemed a necessity, so we had them, but the subject matter was an extension of our interests — not part of a political or aesthetic battle plan.” More and more, I believe Rob Zombie lives by that same philosophy. That it doesn’t stop him from making highly entertaining records is a testament to the power of empty-headedness in rock music.
The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy is Zombie’s seventh studio album as a solo act. As his career has gone on, his album titles have become increasingly nonsensical; it all started with Hellbilly Deluxe in 1998 and The Sinister Urge in 2001, followed by 2005’s Educated Horses and 2010’s Hellbilly Deluxe 2. But in 2013, he released Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, which was followed in 2016 by The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. Both his album and song titles are absurdist strings of words, all laden with semiotic baggage but anyone looking for an overall message, or coherence of any kind, should give up immediately. The lyrical content of a song like “The Eternal Struggles of the Howling Man” is barely worth mentioning. Suffice it to say that each verse consists of a line of nonsense followed by “Well, all right, all right, all right,” twice, and the chorus is, “The howlin’ man/Ah-ooh yeah!”, also repeated twice. What makes this song good (and it is good) is that these non sequiturs, delivered in Zombie’s gravelly sneer, are laid atop a grinding biker-rock riff courtesy of guitarist John 5 and bassist Piggy D, and thunderous drums from Ginger Fish.
Lunar Injection… is a better album than either of its immediate predecessors, both of which felt pretty half-assed. Electric Warlock… was only 31 minutes long, and three of its 12 tracks were 90-second instrumental interludes. The rest were by-the-numbers and almost intentionally forgettable, with crunching guitars, sparkling space synths, and a stomping glam-rock beat. If you listened carefully to the spoken samples that kicked off basically every track, you could tell that there was a message there — they all seemed to come from preachers railing against the evils of rock ‘n’ roll — but the music itself didn’t really inspire repeated plays. Venomous Rat… had been a little better, but also somewhat lazy; it included a cover of Grand Funk Railroad‘s “We’re An American Band,” of all songs, which harkened back to a stripped-down 2005 tour where he and his band played Ozzfest’s second stage in jeans and T-shirts and covered other classic rock tunes mid-set. Another song, “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown,” was a straightforward ripoff of the Doors‘ “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)”. It was hard to tell whether Zombie didn’t expect people to notice, or didn’t care if they did.
There are no cover songs on this album, and the music borrows from a variety of styles, combining them in ways that never feel like novelty for novelty’s sake; the elements always align in diverting ways. “18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks and a One-Way Ticket on the Ghost Train” is a hillbilly pastiche with banjo, harmonica, twanging guitar, and a country rhythm, and Zombie’s vocals fed through a filter that sounds like a subway speaker, until the thrash-punk chorus. “Shadow of the Cemetery Man” is a glam-rock stomper with a fist-pumping chorus and an almost disco beat, with sampled Zombie exhortations serving as punctuation behind the lead vocal. “Boom-Boom-Boom” is a crawling electronic blues with a pulsing synthwave foundation, while John 5 (an extremely underappreciated guitarist) drops in highly evocative leads and fills. The album’s final track, “Crow Killer Blues,” starts out as crushing industrial doom track with dashes of industrial and some subtle organ (and scratching), but ends like an ambient remix of late-period Doors.
Rob Zombie‘s best studio albums are Educated Horses and Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (the original version, with the 10-minute version of “The Man Who Laughs,” four-minute drum solo and all). This one isn’t quite as good as either of those, but it feels like he and his band put real work into it, so if you’re a longtime fan, you’ll likely be pleased, and if you’re new to his work, this is a better-than-decent starting point.