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The first few notes of Caustic Resin’s The After Birth hit you like some half-remembered sound from the ’70s, something “heavy.” Which kind of makes sense, considering that the band members—singer-guitarist Brett Netson, bass guitarist Tom Romich, and drummer James Dillon—all hail from Boise, Idaho. Boise was also the home of the legendary Tad, a band that was heavy both in the musical and corporeal senses—it may well go down in history as the Bachman-Turner Overweight of grunge. Never mind that Built to Spill, the Boise band that Caustic Resin shared album space with in 1996, seems about as “hard-rock” as Elliott Smith. The title of The After Birth’s opening cut, “LongDrive Jam,” says exactly what it is: no vocals, just a couple of blissed-out guitars getting all fuzzed-up and freaky. Here, at long last, we have the Potato State’s answer to the Frank Zappa/Jack Bruce jam on “Apostrophe.” “LongDrive Jam” packs almost enough sonic horsepower to make you forget that it goes absolutely nowhere. It’s the aural equivalent of watching a monster truck turn in tight, screaming, revved-up circles until it runs out of gas.
So it goes with the rest of the album as well, which is full of sound and fury but ain’t worth 14 bucks. What you’ll be getting, basically, are eight relatively shapeless lumps of heavy-metal blubber cut from the very same Moby Dick that the late John Bonham wrote an epic drum solo about. (OK, the CD lists 10 songs, but two of them are brief snatches of studio tomfoolery designed to let us know that the boys in Caustic Resin are cutups who watch M*A*S*H.)
But The After Birth contains a couple of pretty damn cool songs. The CD’s high point, “Violent Game,” is a surly sludgefest of pitiless free-form fuzz guitar, propelled by a big-bottomed rhythm section: It’s swampy. It might well be the noisiest free-for-all this side of the Stooges’ Funhouse, and it even includes a faux-Igster repeatedly screaming “All right!” Other standouts include “Rotten Man” and “A&E.” Although I surely enjoy the caterwauling, I can’t help but think that something’s missing: The Stooges’ desperation and hunger (for a girl, better drugs, revolution, a way out) were palpable—they were, indeed, the very raison d’etre for the music, whereas Caustic Resin doesn’t appear to be making any statement at all, just a whole lotta noise. Ultimately, its racket-making seems less an attempt to expiate some nameless dread than a strenuous form of sonic aerobics. You don’t get the idea, as you do listening to Funhouse, that its makers stake their very lives on what they do in the studio, that it’s a matter of breaking on through to the other side, or else. The Stooges, of course, chose else.
The quieter tunes leave something to be desired, as well. “Twilight in Toronto” is pretty but sounds so much like a Built to Spill number that you’ll wonder whether the latter didn’t sneak into the studio to cut it. “Creedence Jam” is an amiable loose-as-a-goose slow shuffle that doesn’t summon up the spirit of John Fogerty so much as that of the Meat Puppets. (It, too, sounds swampy, but everybody knows there are no bayous in Idaho—just taters. But hats off to the vocalist, who perfectly imitates the sound of Joe Walsh relapsing.) “Say So Long” amounts to a nondescript neo-Zep slow blues that, if it were a heavy-metal trading card, you’d have to swap 100 for one “Going to California.” And while “Cops, Trees and Secret Police” kicks in with a great bass line reminiscent of Killdozer, the boys don’t go anywhere with it. Groovy feedback, though.
It’s frustrating, really, because the guys in Caustic Resin kick it as if they want to be rock ‘n’ roll stars and wear codpieces, but they don’t seem particularly interested in writing solid tunes. They get props for not running desperately after an FM hit, but, apparently, the Caustics equate writing a hummable melody with selling out. Maybe it’s because they’re artists. (The band’s Web site shows ’em daubing paint on a canvas—it’s on an easel and everything—onstage during a live show!)
Hey, if Caustic Resin wants to make big, dumb rock, I’m all for it. The world desperately needs another Foghat (seriously). But, boys, if you’re listening, a little piece of free advice: Before you cut your next record, listen to the Dazed and Confused soundtrack, say, about 5,000 times. Take it to your bosom, drink deeply of it, and memorize the damn thing if you have to. CP