Man, Local H comes so close sometimes.
Just think of some their best songs: "Bound for the Floor", "Back in the Day", "Fritz's Corner", "All the Kids are Right". Every one of them a hulking slab of indie metal that took the band's label of "Nirvana wannabe" and buried it under about six feet of power chords and irony. They always sounded like a band twice their size (the duo initially got by with guitarist/vocalist Scott Lucas playing both guitar and bass lines on the same instrument), with catchy melodies, intelligent lyrics, and self-deprecating humor.
1996's As Good as Dead came the closest to realizing their potential, slipping onto radio with "Bound for the Floor" and "Fritz's Corner" and holding the wry humor of "Eddie Vedder" and "High-Fiving MF" for those who bought the album. 1998's Pack Up the Cats was arguably more fully realized but less fun, despite containing possibly one of the greatest self putdown songs of all time in "All the Kids are Right", about a disastrous Local H show where the kids realized early on that they were getting shortchanged by their drunken heroes. Most people never got to hear it, though, as label mergers killed the album just as things were getting going for Local H. Or, as the band's press materials put it, "everything seemed fine -- and then those damn fools at the wine cooler company bought Polygram and then everything went to heck".
In the time leading up to Here Comes the Zoo, original drummer Joe Daniels left and was replaced by former Triple Fast Action drummer Brian St. Clair. The changeover doesn't result in any major sonic differences, however. Even the addition of high-profile producer Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Patti Smith, Cheap Trick, John Lennon) doesn't alter the band's sound past giving it a new shade of crispness. The band still bashes their way through one melodic post-punk song after another, wtih varying results. Same as it ever was.
That said, Here Comes the Zoo fits comfortably alongside Local H's other records. So why does it feel like a disappointment? The record starts off with promising menace in "Hands on the Bible", which builds mantra-like on a bed of slightly dissonant piano into Local H's patented angst storm. The disc's midpoint, the nine-minute long "Baby Wants to Tame Me" careens and thrashes to bitter, vengeful glory as well as any Local H song ever has. The album's closer, "What Would You Have Me Do?", perfectly encapsulates post-relationship ambivalence (despite about 20 minutes of street sounds, after the song proper, that ends in a crashing guitar chord).
It's hard to pinpoint, then, exactly why Here Comes the Zoo doesn't work. The crunch chords, the powerhouse no-frills approach, the grainy melodies -- they're all here. "Half-Life" gets past a riff that sounds waaaay too much like Kansas' "Fight Fire with Fire" to bash around in familiar fashion. "Fifth Avenue Crazy" boasts a cool guitar intro that sounds like it's buried in a layer of sewer sludge, and "Rock and Roll Professionals" contains the band's trademark "rock stardom is fool's gold" mentality. All the elements are seemingly there.
Not much of it connects, though, and when you get down to it, Here Comes the Zoo has too many songs that don't fully explore their own dynamic potential, and which basically come off sounding one-dimensional. It's too bad; Scott Lucas has a knack for lyrics and melodies that can reveal both self-loathing and a healthy dose of humor at the same time. Here Comes the Zoo just lacks the consistent highlights of the band's previous records. Local H's records have always had a few songs that sounded generic or uninspired. Here Comes the Zoo just seems to have an abundance of them.
by Andrew Gilstrap
PopMatters Associate Music Editor