Lloyd’s Garage is what happens when Adam Duritz rides a time machine back to 1973 to lay down some tracks for Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night. It’s what happens when R.L. Burnside lunges out of his grave to cut a postmortem record with Pearl Jam. It’s Steve Earle jamming in his living room with Jimmy Page as Chris Robinson shows up at the door with a new song scribbled on his palm. And if Seth Heitzmann is to be believed, Lloyd’s Garage aims to be the “WTF?” inside the text cloud that blooms in the brains of people who go to Richard Thompson shows and hear that 60-something guitar god drop acoustic covers of tracks like Brittney’s Spears’s “Ooops! I Did it again.”
“You hear people say, ‘That song sucks.’ But usually it’s not the song that sucks. It’s the producer that decided to treat the song like a 6-year-old beauty contestant,” Heitzmann says as he explains the reasoning behind his cover of “California Gurls” by–(cough)–Katy Perry. “The frustration comes from sensing that there is something beautiful in there, but it’s been covered in goop by some bozo with bad taste. Well, we’ve done our best to strip away the bad taste to give you a chance to hear “California Gurls” performed by actual human beings.”
On the “California Gurls” cover and just about any Lloyd’s Garage song you can find, Heitzmann’s vocals indulge the warbling vulnerability of a Counting Crows ballad (think “Goodnight Elizabeth“) laced with a bruising, stripped-nude and rootsy brand of rock ‘n roll. And with drummer Lloyd Lewelyn hammering out his unending homage to John Bonahm on track after track, this San Francisco duo’s songs swing by like bloody fists in an old-fashioned ass-kicking contest. That appears to be the point, after all–to beat the shit out of bad taste, one song at a time. And if that is indeed the objective behind Lloyd’s Garage, then consider bad taste as Rocky Balboa begging Mick to cut a slit in his swollen eyelid so he can see what he’s swinging at. The only difference is that in this version of the movie, Rocky is pronounced D.O.A. at the hospital.
“With Autotune, it seems like the transition from music to noise is nearly complete,” Heitzmann laments. “We can now take all of the humanity out of a voice. WTF is going on?”
The band says that the video for their Katy Perry cover–which really is less a cover than it is an ambulance summoned to rescue the song from its fake plastic jailers at Capitol Records–is storming the internet like a wind-swept fire threatening the mansions of Malibu. But even if the video hasn’t quite done all that just yet, one thing is almost certain: you will watch it more than once, and you may even hear it sneak through the backdoor of your mind as you’re slurping down another low-budget lunch of Ramen and Fritos in your cubicle tomorrow. Check it out; I dare you to prove me wrong:
Of course, this is the Grammies, and so the 53rd annual awards show will feature, as usual, one of the most bizarre crossroads the music industry can possibly assemble. Grizzled warhorses like Neil Young will share the same billing as Drake and Jay-Z and the utterly insufferable Jewel will inhabit the same edifice as Win Butler. But that’s how it is at the Grammy Awards, where Lady Gaga lavishes Elton John in a rain of adoration from across her piano, Brittney Spears locks tongues with Madonna, and Soy Bomb gets more pub than Dylan the day after the latter brings home the first Album of the Year award of his life at the tender young age of 56 (an incident remembered fondly in the sublime Eels track, “Whatever Happened to Soy Bomb?”).
Top40-charts.com reports that the Grammies honored no less than 273 indie artists with nominations this year–more than half of all nominations. The story then goes on to completely discredit itself with a quote alleging that Taylor Swift is an indie artist. But given the embarrassing legacy that the Grammies have developed over the years, mere tastelessness is better than the baffling indifference afforded The Strokes and The White Stripes back in 2002, when both White Blood Cells and Is This It? earned a combined total of zero nominations despite their standing as easily the two most interesting and superior rock albums of the year. Instead, the “Best new Artist” category that year gave the Strokes the “talk to the hand” treatment in favor of acts like Michelle Branch. Right, enough said.
The Stripes got the shaft in favor of “artists” such as Avril Lavigne (who? That skater-chick from Canada who did that teeny-bopper anthem for Dawson’s Creek, you mean?) while The Neptunes, The Vines, and The Hives also got hosed. But if getting ignored by the Grammies is a sure way to demonstrate your creative integrity (hint: It is), The Strokes, Stripes and friends are doing just fine for themselves, thank you very much. As for who should win this year and, of course, who will win instead, here are Culturespill’s picks in a handful of the major categories:
Record of the Year: With a slate of nominees such as Bruno Mars, Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Jay-Z, and something called “Cee Lo Green,” which I think is a kind of environmentally friendly glass cleaner, does anyone really give a shit who wins here? With ten nods going to Eminem in total, this one is almost certain to go to Mr. Shady. The Jay-Z/Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind,” a song that basically amounts to a musical grocery list of all the neat things that the rich and famous appreciate about NYC, is a possible sleeper here–if for no other reason than to offer Alicia a baby gift in light of the recent birth of her son, Egypt Daoud Dean (Can you say “Apple Blythe Alison Martin“?).
Album of the Year: It is just as obvious that Arcade Fire is by far the more deserving winner here as it is that the Grammy folks don’t have the balls to go there. The only genuinely daring winner of this category in recent memory was Steely Dan’s horrendous Two Against Nature, and maybe Dylan’s win for the brilliant and career-resurrecting Time out of Mind in 1998. Other than that, this one almost always goes to the pop trash celebrity of the moment, and that distinction, clearly, goes to Katy Perry for Teenage Dream, a sure-fire winner this year. Other nominees: Eminem, Recovery; Lady Antebellum, Need You Now; Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster. A good year for ladies named “Lady.”
Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance: Surely Apple has paid off the Grammy folks by now to the tune of whatever it takes to ensure that McCartney wins for his delivery of “Helter Skelter” on Good Evening New York City, a live CD released this year on–wait for it–the Starbucks record label Hear Music. Whatever amount of payola the Grammy folks received from Apple to use this as further advertising fodder for their announcement that Beatles music is now available on iTunes will probably be enough to bring it home. It’s a crowded category this year, including used-up former gods such as Robert Plant or Eric Clapton, whose continued laurel-resting inspired perhaps the most notorious exchange in Culturespill history in the comments below our review of Clapton’s Robert Johnson covers album. If there was a true God, though, the good deity would ensure that this year’s award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance goes to its rightful winner, and that has to be Neil Young for “Angry World,” easily one of the man’s most inspired rock performances since the night he damn-near burned down the building with his terrifying performance of “Rockin’ in the Free World” on SNL in 1989. Le Noise is the most engaging record Neil has done in at least 15 years and earned him three nominations this year. Other nominees in this category: John Mayer, “Crossroads.” Yes, John Mayer. You are now free to throw up in your own mouth.
Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals: It should come as no surprise that the track nominated in this category from the Black Keys’s brilliant new record Brothers happens to rank among the least interesting moments on the entire album. It is equally unsurprising that “Tighten Up” was also the first single that Nonesuch tagged for promos when the record hit the streets earlier this year. Had the Grammy shills bothered to actually listen to the record before choosing a track to nominate under this category, they might have considered “The Next Girl,” “Howlin’ For You” or “She’s Long Gone.” Since they failed to do so, the winner here has to be Arcade Fire’s “Ready to Start.” Other nominees in this category: Jeff Beck & Joss Stone, “I Put a Spell on You“; Kings of Leon, “Radioactive“; Muse, “Resistance.”
Best Rock Album: Funny how the more cluttered the scene becomes with young bands vying for a spare slice of the glory pie their forebears baked so long ago, the more those forebears remind us that they know best how to rock. Three of the five nominees in this category have roamed the earth for a combined 180+ years: Neil Young, Jeff Beck, and Tom Petty. Others, the boy-band-as-rock-‘n-rollers concept group Muse and grunge priests Pearl Jam, ought to have no chance whatsoever in winning over any of the other three. Here again, Young’s “Le Noise” is by far the ballsiest record of the five nominees, with Beck’s “Emotion & Commotion” a clear runner-up only because Petty’s Mojo turned out to be running a little lower than he realized (forgettable toss-offs like “Candy” and “No Reason to Cry” cramp the style of rock ‘n roll stunners like “I Should Have Known it” and “Running Man’s Bible“). But, as always, most likely this one will go to the shittiest of the five nominees, namely Muse.
Click here for the full list of nominees for the 53rd annual Grammy Awards. If you prefer the PDF version, go here.