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Royal Trux
Platinum Tips + Ice Cream Nick Hutchings , June 14th, 2017 12:02

After reforming for the filthy lucre of the Berserktown II Festival in Jennifer Herrema’s latest hometown of Los Angeles in 2015, this is the first new material by her and Neil Hagerty’s Royal Trux for 17 years. Rather than busting out a fanfare, Jennifer would probably be more likely to blast from an FX pedal-assisted flute.

Platinum Tips + Ice Cream is a career spanning collection of tunes, subtitled “live” and recorded unrehearsed in real time to a few thousand people last year in New York and LA. Capturing the raw, oft-chaotic unpredictability of a band that doesn’t give a flying one what anyone thinks “live” is like capturing lightning in a bottle. Nadav Eisenman of Herrema’s post-Trux bands RTX and Black Bananas does a commendable job without distilling any of the band’s indomitable spirit or underlying power.

In the past, Royal Trux have often been reduced to caricatures of delinquent Gen X-ers and strung-out drop-outs but there’s way more depth to them than that. Hagerty is a true guitar hero with musicality effortlessly exuding from every sinew, while Herrema is a smart cookie who embodies the spirit of rock & roll through her every pore and her imperceptible fringe. Teetering between telepathic genius and glorious meltdown, sometimes within the space of a single song, they may not be together as a couple, but what they will never lose, without sounding too hippy-ish, is some kind of cosmic, child-like connection. Individually they are still big characters who have both made music of note since their original split – Hagerty with The Howling Hex and Herrema with Black Bananas, but it’s what happens when they’re together that is most remarkable, a sixth sense of synchronized disorder that’s far greater than the sum of its artful parts.

They’re still very much a team, the odd bicker that only former partners can have aside: Hagerty selected the drummer for the line-up on Platinum Tips, Tim Barnes, a Lee Ranaldo and Jim O’Rourke collaborator, while Herrema drafted Black Bananas cohort Brian McKinley as bassist. They ably back up the guttural pure rock voice and vibes of Jennifer and the surprisingly honeyed voice and virtuoso playing of Neil Hagerty.

Album opener ‘Junkie Nurse’ is transformed from the Richard Thompson style finger picking folk from the third album Royal Trux (1992) to a finger lickin’ deep fried rock feast, and there are plenty of colossal riffs to be found on Platinum Tips which is probably why some wag at the recent Camden Electric Ballroom show shouted for them to play some Sabbath. Zeppelin would have been more appropriate such is the cyclic boogie of songs like ‘Platinum Tips’ from last Trux album proper Pound For Pound or the one song from their lucrative yet troublesome Virgin Records period ‘Sewers Of Mars’ from 1995’s Thank You.

The careful sequencing of the album, with the vinyl pressing clearly in mind, reminds me of the potent placing of tracks on Raw Power by Iggy & The Stooges, each side starting with a banger – the aforementioned ‘Junkie Nurse’ searches and destroys on one side and Veterans of Disorder opener ‘Waterpark’ has the aforementioned raw power on the other. Each half ends with a dreamier slow-burner to hypnotize into the run out groove,  ‘Deafer Than Blind’ from 1998’s one for the completists the 3-Song EP and ‘Ice Cream’, almost unrecognizably tuneful as the one inclusion from Trux’s Beefheart style improv opus Twin Infinitives.

The sequencing is not the only Stooges comparison, there’s a definite air of proto punk in ‘Esso Dame’ from the first Royal Trux album. Its charm is as simple as the title is obscure. Cultural magpie Herrema apparently named it after British petrol station promo girls she’d once seen in a magazine, an apparently classier version of the gas station ‘lot lizards’ of Exxon et al back home.  Such a cut and paste approach means the album flits like a short attention span from lazy laments like Drag City’s first ever single ‘Red Tiger’ to super compressed eighties inspired pop bombast ‘The Banana Question’ and the Bluenote jazz-club tinge of previous live set closer ‘Blue Is The Frequency’ and therein lies the uninhibited, free-wheeling nature of the band.

Given the combustible history of the band’s heroes, and the geographical distance between them from California to Denver means any long-term future of new recordings may be uncertain but Royal Trux’s legacy is assured and undiminished.

As ‘Ice Cream’ reaches it’s final meltdown, when Jennifer comments, presumably about an errant keyboard effect, “Hey Chris, it wasn’t turned on” it distills the whole point of the lifelong art project between her & Neil: Royal Trux would still be happening even if the mics weren’t on, if the tapes or 2017 equivalent weren’t rolling or if there wasn’t an audience there to witness it.

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