Reverend Horton Heat: The Rev: A Review

I love the Reverend Horton Heat. It’s important to get that disclaimer out of the way. The other disclaimer is I got this album FOR FREE. When the wife and I were planning our trip to Europe, I went to the Reverend Horton Heat’s website and emailed their publicist saying “I’m going to Europe, is the Reverend going to be touring Europe over these dates?”. Alas the band was not. However the amazing Rachel from the Rev’s publicity team said that she would send me out the latest album and then set me up with an interview with Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath.

I first discovered the Reverend Horton Heat when playing Guitar Hero II. Their song “Psychobilly Freakout was one of the harder songs to master. And it took me a very long time.

See? That shit is hard.

Anyway, now that my embarrassing discovery story is out of the way, I thought I’d get to reviewing the Reverend Horton Heat’s latest offering, The Rev.

The band has been around since 1985 in one guise or another. And they haven’t really changed much. Their music is still a sort of anarchic punky country – psychobilly the kids call it. And it’s foot stomping, energy lifting awesome, punctuated with spectacularly hilarious country songs (with a touch of gospel).

For an example of that, I recommend getting in touch with Jimbo.

So back to the Rev. It’s more of what makes these guys so awesome really. The first track ‘Victory Lap’ is an instrumental with a strong hint of Dick Dale’s Misirlou to it. The guitar playing is rapid, the bassline punchy and the drumming frenetic. It gives my leg a parkinsonian shiver just listening to it. Bounce bounce bounce. And from there the album doesn’t really let up. Victory Lap morphs seamlessly into “Smell of Gasoline” which is a witty nod to the country hick stereotype that the Rev so ruthlessly satirises and celebrates.

The Reverend is a band at their best when you can smell the energy pouring off the tracks, and while not all 11 albums in their back catalogue have managed to sustain this throughout an entire album (their most recent album, Laughin’ and Cryin’ with the Reverend Horton Heat, while still great, was weirdly disjointed when it came to pacing), this album seems to have pulled their shit together.

From the Smell of Gasoline we lurch into a slightly more post-punk song, Never Gonna Stop It. While Jim’s voice immediately lends itself to a rockabilly/psychobilly sound, the instruments behind him don’t always agree and in the intro to Never Gonna Stop It makes you think we’re going to get a Chuck Berry infused NoFX song. But then Jim’s bassy voice cuts in and it reminds you you’re listening to the masters of psychobilly.

There’s no mistaking the sound of Zombie Dumb, the next track. Though it’s still being played at 200mph, it’s marginally less than the 250mph that the rest of the album has been so far. There’s very much a surf-rock feel to this song. Large fast drum solos, screechy guitar picking over the top and the mutterings of a Vincent Price sound-alike chiming in periodically. It sounds like the beginning of a Quentin Tarantino movie (in fact why Tarantino hasn’t used the Reverend on his soundtracks to date seems like a huge oversight, get it together Tarantino. They’ve been on HEAPS of videogame soundtracks).

Spooky Boots sounds like any number of Reverend songs from albums past. It’s a simple guitar riff, played manically with a big break just before Jim comes in with the lyrics. Once again the Rev skewers his country upbringing, playing up the stereotypes that white urban people hold about southern fried country folk. Spooky Boots is probably the most mainstream sounding track from the album, and if these guys dealt in singles, I imagine this would be the lead single off the album. Fortunately, the Reverend isn’t about singles, but rather listening to each album as a whole to get a full experience.

Schizoid is next and it’s probably, to my mind, the weakest track on the album. While it uses all the same ingredients as the rest of the album, the sum of those parts don’t quite mesh for this particular song. Scenery Going By is probably in the same boat. Once again it sounds exactly like a Reverend Horton Heat song should…but something, I can’t put my finger on, hasn’t quite worked.

The album lurches back to form with My Hat. It’s a very 1950s rock’n’roll feel and it’s just … fun. There is always a sense of humour with Reverend Horton Heat albums, either explicitly or just by lyrics being so banal (see “Cowboy Love for a song about homosexual, interracial cowboy love). My Hat is only 2:14, which is perfect for this sort of rock’n’roll song, you wouldn’t want it to go longer. The Rev has always had an appreciation for when a song should end, not like some other bands who flog the shit out of a song.

Let Me Teach You How to Eat is very reminiscent of Psychobilly Freakout above. Distorted guitars kick us off before a frantic drum beat kicks in. But in this song, Jim puts his lyrics in over the top. Once again employing the banality to show off his sense of humour. This frantic, angry sounding psychobilly song has lyrics that include:

Let me teach you how to eat
Teach you how to eat
Let me teach you how to eat
Teach you how to eat
How to marinate the meat
Marinate the meat
Let me teach you how to eat
Teach you how to eat
It’s a culinary treat
Culinary treat
Let me teach you how to eat
Teach you how to eat

Let me teach you how to bake
Teach you how to bake
Let me teach you how to bake
Teach you how to bake
How to grill a strip steak
Grill a strip steak
Let me teach you how to bake
Teach you how to bake
We can bake a cake
Let me teach you how to bake
Teach you how to bake

Jim wrings every possible emotion out of a song that is basically about nothing and has rhymes purely off one syllable words. And yet it still works, because it’s fun. Fun is something these guys never lose sight of. They don’t take themselves too seriously, but they’re not over the top silly (Bloodhound Gang), they’re silly but over the top of awesome musicianship.

Mad, Mad Heart is another in a long line of homogenised Reverend songs. That’s not a criticism. These guys do what they do very well and there’s no need to change it up and release an Adore and alienate your fan-base from Mellon Collie. That just makes your fans angry. Doesn’t it Billy? Yeah. Longest Gonest Man is another in the same category.

And then we get to Hardscrabble Woman and suddenly we dragged into a change of pace. It’s a slower, still undeniably rocky piece of music, played in a minor key so suggesting some emotional turbulence. It’s a repetitive riff with a very simple drum beat with musical breaks for Jim to sing highly dramatic lines. And then there’s a choral backing behind Jim for some lines. And it just … works. It works so well. You can listen to Reverend Horton Heat songs as background music and it won’t interrupt you if you’re otherwise preoccupied. Or you can put them on and give them a dedicated listen because the music, the lyrics and the energy you get from listening to them is just so entertaining.

The album finishes on Chasing Rainbows and it’s a fascinating song. It sounds like a pop song in tone and lyrics, but it’s played in a minor key again so it has a darker edge. It’s almost as if Jim’s listened to the Muppet Movie Soundtrack and then done a Christopher Nolan style reboot of the music with a darker, grittier edge. It’s the perfect end to what is a sublime album.

The Reverend Horton Heat probably isn’t for everyone. But it certainly is for me. And this latest album I think is their finest work so far. It’s balls-to-the-wall fun and exhilaration from beginning to end.

Also, the album cover is fucking excellent.

Rev
You can buy stuff from the Reverend by visiting their website, and I highly recommend you do. It even has iTunes and Amazon links because it’s a HIP and TRENDY website: http://www.reverendhortonheat.com/

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