Believe it or not, the terrific Illinois duo Local H is a grunge band. And although they're on their third album for Island - which got some airplay out of "Bound for the Floor" and the abrasive anti-jock raver "High-Fiving MF" last time around -- nonstop drummer Joe Daniels and quadruple-threat frontman Scott Lucas pursue their fate indie style, lucky survivors (so far) of the biz's Nirvana fad. Pack Up the Cats is unlikely to make stars of them -- on the lyrical evidence, it could be their farewell. But it deserves to be remembered as an impassioned testament of the endangered alt life.
Local H make more noise than producer Roy Thomas Baker can slick or metal up, but the secret of their success, and perhaps of their failure to change the world, is their sanity and solidity. Lucas would be an uncommonly direct songwriter in any genre, and he lays out the alt dilemma with painful plainness: "Making like a godsend/Feeling like a has-been"; "I'll never be just who I want to be"; "She's my girl -- she hates my job"; and, most poignantly, "I'm in love with rock & roll/But that'll change eventually." Infusing these thoughts with turmoil and tune like the son of Kurt that he is, Lucas celebrates the intensity of the scene that provided his artistic identity even as he shouts out its limitations. Albums lamenting the musician's lot are tedious by definition. But this one comes at the right historical moment. It will move anyone who cares about the future of rock's stubbornnest stalwarts.