The Best Little Secrets are Kept
h, Steve. You remember him. The lone representative of the white-ghetto gutter kids you thought had a little spark in him. More than concrete and spit, so much daring fuckhead genius hidden behind wry silence and contempt for authority, right? Behind those dark bangs, smeared in clouded eyes, there was something that stood forward about him. You appreciated his disdain for book-smarts; he was so much more capable of scandalous insults and memorable misogyny, and isn’t that the test of genius of every high school gent? A cruel split tongue? You loved the way he played down everybody’s expectations as a way of ensuring nothing was ever asked of him. And, yet, somehow he mirrored the vagaries of your own growing intellect, didn’t he? Yeah, Steve was quite the enigma.
On the debut album by San Diego barstool punks Louis XIV, it’s clear they’re targeting the legacy of all those Steves out there. After stints at last year’s South by Southwest festival and American tours with the Killers and Von Bondies, not to mention the release of a major label debut EP Illegal Tender, word began to spread in anticipation of this full-length. From its first rabid beat, it's easy to understand why. Raunchy and frivolous, the band tracks the loose-limbed three-am strut of early-seventies Stones, Electric Warrior-era T. Rex, and just about every swaggering glam rock star from Bowie to Gary Glitter. Their trick, and the rabbit-out-of-a-hat that brings us back to Steve, is to make you believe them inane and foolish, and then double-back on yourself. Could they really be so damned thieving? Surely, there’s something more there than this superficial back-seat rock, right? You think you catch a glance, an insipid look into the core there, and you’re damn certain you see a smirk, hinting at substance and tongue-in-cheek bravado. Let’s investigate.
On opening track “Louis XIV,” lead singer Jason Hill unveils his faux-aristocrat drawl, feigning a hipper-than-thou bombast that’s damn convincing. After a short string intro, a libidinous beat strokes and grinds through three concrete blocks of classic rock guitars, all crunch and slam and bang against the mess-hall. Replete with Marc Bolan-style handclaps and a we’ll-get-there-when-we’re-damn-good-and-ready pacing, the song’s so full of memory-tripping and where-have-I-heard-this-before trickery it’s foolish at this point to question its intent.
However, it’s the inclusion of “Finding Out True Love is Blind” from their Illegal Tender EP that really draws you in. As the beat shuffles across elegiac piano notes, which in turn stoke an almost Meatloaf-worthy Wagnerian chorus, the song’s peculiar interludes and off-the-wall instrumentation is offset by absurd lyrical flirtations. Take this gem: “Oh chocolate girl, well you’re looking like something I want.” Or “I want the stupid girl who gives me all those dirty looks.” The juxtaposition of such utterly depraved idiocy with what can almost be called Victorian Rock music induces fits, and should always be played more than once.
But as the album progresses, and one moment of not-so-subtle ironic posturing follows on the feather-boa-and-high-heels of another, the act wears thin. Ode becomes exploitation, and exploitation lampoons into creative bankruptcy. “Letter to Dominique” is a sloppy twisting of T Rex’s “Jeepster.” The dark haunted strings, the high-pitched wailing, the strangled wino guitar lines. Sure, they’ve got the elegant sashay down to a fine art, but they’re missing the point entirely. Shown in the carnival mirror, the original product looks so straight and ordinary. It’s as though the music of T Rex, when torqued in such a way after so many years, becomes plain and safe and sexless. And thus, of course, completely voided. Droll brit-rock squared is apparently an equation in a void, summing zero.
As The Best Little Secrets are Kept passes from the tangled funk of “Pledge of Allegiance,” featuring the limp cock-rock noodle “We don’t have to go to the pool if you want me to make you wet,” to the puzzling string-drenched ballad of “All the Little Pieces,” the album’s stagnant celebrity worship stifles their ironic, so-dumb-its-addictive intentions. Calculated references like “God save the Kinks / And the music from the big pinks” only serve as warnings that perhaps the surface here is the depth. There’s no reason to second-guess yourselves, kids. Take Louis XIV at face value. And so we return to whence we began, so much wiser now. It turns out Steve is dumb after all. That jaded gleam you thought you saw was only the fluorescents inflaming his dull eyes, for one moment, and perhaps two songs.