Cheesy Prologue: The best feeling you can get while listening to an album is when it all comes together, when that really good album suddenly becomes great. It usually takes months or years to get to this stage with an album. Sometimes you happen to connect that album with an important event in your life and the memory and the music become intertwined. Other times a friend tells you to check something out and you blow the dust off of some album you totally forgot you had and it feels fresh and new again. It’s moments like those that define us all as music geeks.
I remember purchasing Suicide Invoice by Hot Snakes and being a really big fan of the first Drive Like Jehu album as well as Hot Snakes’ first album, Automatic Midnight. This was seven months ago, back in the summer of 2002. Since then I have spent a lot of time with Suicide Invoice and I’ve enjoyed each listen. But it was still just another really good album in my fairly vast collection of really good (at least, in my opinion) albums. So what made a merely good piece of music become a near-classic in my eyes? Context, my friend. Between the last time I listened to Suicide Invoice and the time I put it on to write this review, something major happened.
Not too long ago, Swami (not-at-all coincidentally the same label that puts out Hot Snakes releases and is owned by Snakes guitarist John Reis), reissued Drive Like Jehu’s second and final LP, the oh-so-very essential Yank Crime. If you don’t own and love both Drive Like Jehu albums, you’re not listening to rock music. Drive Like Jehu revolutionized the way bands played their guitars. When Jehu first came on the scene and dropped their self-titled debut back in 1992 it was a revelation. If you put on a Drive Like Jehu album now, it still sounds like the future of music; they were that good.
Taking a listen to Yank Crime brought back all those feelings of wonderment that I got when I had first heard Drive Like Jehu. Jehu broke down all these boundaries for the music lover. They put out 9-minute songs that were that long because they needed to be, not for purposes of masturbatory guitar noodling, and almost all of them were brilliant. They remain, to this day, one of the most inspiring bands I have ever heard. From a musical standpoint, Drive Like Jehu was as important as Fugazi.The most crucial aspects of the Drive Like Jehu sound were the angular guitar pummeling of John Reis, who also founded Rocket from the Crypt in 1990, and the sandpaper scream of Rick Froberg. Long after the demise of Drive Like Jehu, these two have reunited to form Hot Snakes. Suicide Invoice is their second LP.
This isn’t a history lesson, it’s a rock review. But referring to history is not meant to imply that Reis and Froberg are done bringing the rock. If Suicide Invoice is any indication, these dudes aren’t anywhere near their end.
If Drive Like Jehu was a bullet train to Vegas, Hot Snakes is a slower, meaner kind of vehicle. They’re more like a tank headed straight for Detroit, New York City, or any other alleged epicenter for trend setting. Hot Snakes seem to be completely unaware of what the kids are listening to, and in fact make no bones about disregarding the kids. The album’s opener is called “I Hate the Kids” for chrissakes! This is not to say that Hot Snakes has forgotten how to fire a musical missile right into your home. Songs like “LAX” and “Who Died” illustrate that John Reis and Rick Froberg, along with bassist Gar Wood and drummer Jsinclair, have no idea that nearly a decade has passed since Drive Like Jehu released Yank Crime. Hot Snakes brings you the rock like Yank Crime came out a few months ago.
That is not the say that Hot Snakes sound dated. The fact is, rock music has yet to catch up to where Drive Like Jehu was ten years ago and it definitely hasn’t gotten to the level that Hot Snakes are at this very moment. Rick Froberg is showcasing more of himself in these songs than he ever did in any previous efforts. While listening to “Why Does It Hurt” and “Suicide Invoice,” you’ll hear a lot more emotional range coming from Froberg. For every band that you see on MTV2 that makes you weep for the fate of “rock music,” you can look to Hot Snakes to play music with the same urgency and passion that made us all music geeks in the first place. Hot Snakes aren’t resurrecting rock music, they’re just living proof that, in the right hands, it will never die.
Less-Cheesy Epilogue: Thanks to my doing this review, Suicide Invoice has revealed itself to me as one of the best rock albums of the last five years. Now get up and go buy every single Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes release that you don’t already have.