The first law of the reviewer should be that,
no matter how deeps your stack of CDs is, one should not lend
out a CD until the review is actually written. Not that I would
know that from personal experience or anything, but suffice
to say I've had the self-titled album by Chicago band Tijuana
Hercules for a long time, but I've only just now retained possession
of it. And this is a shame, as Tijuana Hercules really
ought to have been on my
top ten album list of 2005.
Skinned Alive opens the album, and pretty much nails
the band's sound. The percussion, courtesy of Chad Smith on
drums and Zak Piper on random tin cans, is rambunctious and
quick paced. Over this, John Forbes plays frenetic guitar and
growls forcefully. The musical combination mixes up Southern
Blues with traditional early Rockabilly, and induces dancing
and bouncing. After So Ripped, another tune in the same
vein, Tijuana Hercules adds more effects and some lower pitched
guitar work on Pack It In, Mama, which emphasizes the
chaotic sound of the band. Yet, in the midst of the maelstrom,
Forbes's voice retains its grounding and its dominance.
The band's raunchy sound is enhanced on Common Sense Has Lost Its Mind, which adds Piper on horns that act as a counterpoint to both the guitar and vocal line. This addition fills out Tijuana Hercules's rather minimalist sound, and definitely brings to mind the blues element which is always present in the music. In contrast, Ax Grindin' brings rockabilly to the forefront, courtesy of some intricate riffs and slides. Think Gene Vincent with the energy of Jerry Lee Lewis, and you'd be right in the ballpark.
Later during the album, the band slows things down a bit with Turn This Around, which for some reason reminds me of a high school prom in the deep South circa 1962. With a gentle musical sway and almost too much echo that is enhanced by another round of horns, you can almost see the lines of teenagers dancing too close in a dimly lit gymnasium. This vision is shattered by The Orchard Is Rotten, which brings back those tin cans that I absolutely adore. Yet, the guitar is more subdued and the pace begins more slowly than on the earlier songs. But, towards the very end, the drums kick in and everything combines to sound like something from the early British Invasion.
Tijuana Hercules returns to their more typical sound with Baby Needs New Shoes, which goes back to a frenetic bouncing style. This gives way to one of the highlights of the album, A Boiling Pot Shows No Mercy. It begins with Piper ostensibly setting the pace with a jittery cowbell like sound. Over this, Forbes growls about waking up in the morning while adding a guitar riff that is identical to the vocal line. Then, the music shakes itself into a hard breakdown, as the drums come in, the pace picks up, and the guitar takes over. It's simply a whole lot of fun, even though this song has a little more overt intricacy than some of the earlier material.
After a particularly quick cover of Mental Revenge, the album comes to a bluesy conclusion with When The Moon Comes Up Wild, which oddly enough is a retread of the title track from Tijuana Hercules' debut album. It's a slow, horn-driven tune with the occasional bluesy guitar sound and masses of drumming. This song is perhaps the most intense of the entire album, and brings things to a sudden end.
And after only 30 minutes (albeit with 13 songs), it's all over, except for the echo in my head. To Tijuana Hercules's credit, this album is perhaps the most fun I've had in the last year or so. The recording captures the sheer joy that you know these three musicians have as they concoct their tunes. This elation is transferred to the listener over and over again, so that I at least am left standing around with a near permanent smile on my face.