Seth Bogart: saying what I’m about to say is going to hurt me more than it hurts you. For those who’ve hip-swung to Hunx and His Punx’ (presumably) Pacino-inspired “Cruising,” this might not seem like a bad thing. But I’m afraid it is. Having thus wrecked all my chances of ever bedding Bogart on an Antipodean tour (I think I may have also freaked out personal idol Lydia Loveless by telling her on Facebook that I’d cream my jeans if she came to Australia — but not in a stalky way! We’re a weird mob), I may as well begin this review explicating in detail my reservations about Hairdresser Blues.
The junk that made Hunx and His Punx different from a plethora of other garage-revival rockers was not only their unabashed queerness, but, firstly, Bogart’s sense of humour, as located in a pop culture landscape; and, secondly, his sense of play with gender and sexuality — from “Good Kisser’s” “We’ll go to Del Taco/ And order something macho” to “Lover’s Lane’s” genderfuck of the classic death song scenario. Now that our little Hunx has struck out on his own, though, with a few exceptions (most prominently, the title track), these elements are lacking on Hairdresser Blues, which consists mostly of straight-up love songs, happy-ended or otherwise. It feels like a more serious record than those with the Punx, as evidenced by “Say Goodbye Before You Leave,” Bogart’s heartfelt tribute to Jay Reatard; but former albums Gay Singles and Too Young To Be In Love did both feature moving moments in amongst sleazy vaudeville rock. The lyrics rehearse a catalog of pop/rock’s most well-ploughed tropes, and though this is certainly in line with classic garage rock, it’s disappointing from someone who could write the immortal lines, “I think your parents must’ve been cousins/ You don’t like rock ’n’ roll.”
A higher energy might carry all of this, but here too we encounter relatively subdued guitar lines that owe more to the rambling 60s sound of groups like The Velvet Underground than the short sharp shocks of garage — to the point where closer “When You’re Gone” is a fairly obvious borrowing of V.U. via Cowboy Junkies staple “Sweet Jane” (even if I am a sucker for the tambourine which is liberally sprinkled here and elsewhere on the album). There’s a sense that there’s a certain melancholy inherent in the form itself, a yearning towards serious (melo)drama and toward excess in time (not only in content), and this is making its way through in ways which are as yet embryonic and unsatisfactory in terms of an intertwined relationship with Bogart’s own sonic-linguistic history and habits.
It’s not that there’s nothing here worth cavorting around your bedroom in your underwear to. “Let Me In” and “Set Them Free” serve up some neat guitar hookiness, “Private Room’s” (albeit repetitive) chorus is an instant earworm, and “Always Forever” features some ultra-seductive, Lydia Lunch-esque spoken moments. Overall, the album is something of a grower, but in this very sense, it feels like we’re at the midpoint of two nodes on a phallic rhizome, somewhere between the throwaway but paradoxically long-term addictive garage camp of Bogart’s past, and some more reflective, but as yet teste-popping, pizza-faced, love-cliché-spouting, adult future. Sonically, we can draw a parallel to the transition of psychedelic influences into garage; extending the metaphor into the vein of kitsch, let’s picture the death of Rocky Horror’s Eddie (Meat Loaf, I have to add) and birth of Rocky himself — all to the hypersexualized strains of Frank-N-Furter as man-making ringmaster. “OK? OK?! I think we can do better than that!”