Dynamic duo Local H returns with sophisticated new album

Rock band proves it's still got it after a series of mediocre releases

Long before the White Stripes became the so-called "saviors of rock," Local H frontman Scott Lucas had perfected the two-man rock ensemble with drummer Joe Daniels. Rigging his guitar so that he is also able to play the bass line, Lucas eliminated the need for a permanent third member. Though touring members sometimes come onstage to shred some solos, Local H has stuck with the formula to maintain a band that truly rocks.

Local H's rollercoaster career began in 1995 with its first full-length release, "Ham Fisted," which was unfairly regarded by critics as a Nirvana rip-off. But Local H scored an alt-rock hit with "Bound for the Floor" in 1996, and their CD "As Good As Dead" achieved a measure of well-deserved success. Things went downhill in 1998 with the release of "Pack up the Cats." A fantastic concept album that might have ended the era's reign of Matchbox Twenty and Third Eye Blind, the CD was robbed of any publicity due to a transitional period within Island Records.

Armed with new drummer Brian St. Clair and a new label, Local H released the 10-song rocker "Here Comes the Zoo" in 2002 and "No Fun EP" in 2003. And now with the release of "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?" they are in a position to put themselves back on the map.

This CD successfully mixes headbanging rockers like "Heavy Metal Bakesale" and slower tunes like "Mellowed," with a 10-minute juggernaut "Buffalo Trace" thrown in the middle. It still manages to achieve a nice flow that many radio-ready rock CDs of today lack.

Lucas displays an incredible amount of sophistication on this release, and his talent as a musician really shows. The CD is more experimental, with Lucas' extensive use of guitar and voice effects, but as is shown in the song "Dick Jones," the melodies are still strong. In addition, the lyrics stand out from both previous Local H releases and other rock groups out there. Not overly emotional or preachy with a hint of dry humor, Lucas has matured into a polished songwriter.

St. Clair hits the drums hard - really hard. The beats are not overly complicated, but they more than make up for it with raw energy and power.

On "Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?," the combination of Lucas and St. Clair truly works. With the first single "California Songs" starting to hit the airwaves, maybe the hardworking Local H is ready to break into the mainstream. But whether or not this exceptional release gets the credit it deserves, rock fans owe it to themselves to check it out.

By Garrett Karrberg

Published: Monday, March 29, 2004