Howling Hex XI

[Drag City; 2007]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: Neil Hagerty hiding his talent
Others: Royal Trux, Brother JT, The Suntanama

There’s a method behind critical madness with respect to Neil Hagerty. With a few lackluster albums under his belt, it seems like Hagerty veered away from the old reliability of yore. Watching his career trajectory grow from the fantastic Neil Michael Hagerty & The Howling Hex to the full-blown Howling Hex band has been like watching a man trying to permanently shed the spotlight through career sabotage. Hagerty could whittle his Howling Hex output down to the vital track, but more warts sprout on the surface of each successive album. His contempt for his audience seeped through the pores of last year’s Nightclub Version of the Eternal, manifesting in seven long, same-sounding songs with lengthy wank-off solos. Truthfully, little over a year has passed since the last solid Hagerty album, Howling Hex’s You Can’t Beat Tomorrow, and three years since his amazing three-volume limited LP series introduced the band as a functional unit apart from his solo material. Thus, we forgive Hagerty’s trespasses again and again and hope for a recapturing of Royal Trux’s glory.

On XI, Hagerty pushes the democratic band façade to the forefront with pitiful results. Without Hagerty’s focus, the band splinters in a thousand different directions, none transcending bar-band territory. The album retains no particular flow and all Hagerty’s guitar solos sound phoned-in. At worst, the album dips into material best left on a Red Hot Chili Peppers outtakes compilation. Hagerty produces the gems on the album, but only two of his four songs transcend standard Hagerty fare.

XI begins innocently enough with “Keychains,” a clean sing-along studio boogie resembling Tattoo You-era Rolling Stones. Though the song comes across as a little forced, its joviality should mark the commencement of Hagerty’s further deconstruction of old Stones LPs. Instead, his bandmates hijack the album’s remainder and fail to produce one interesting tune. Lyrically, each member attempts to construct a rave-up from generic phrasings, and only the faux-Beat spoken-word breakdown “Let Fridays Decide” contains a scrap of ingenuity. “Dr. Slaughter” waifs the eardrums with rancid white-boy funk and an aggressive Rollins Band vocal delivery. Both “Lines in the Sky” and “Everybody’s Doing It” bob along with a harder-edged jam band strut and bland vocal inflections.

Only one of Hagerty’s four tunes even aspires to the height of his potential. “Martyl Lectures Comedian” showcases Hagerty’s sympathetic falsetto and his creative rhythm guitar concoctions. And although his other compositions blunder, they climb peaks his bandmates cannot even fathom. XI continues on the downward slope fostered by Nightclub Version of the Eternal, but if Hagerty wishes to shun the spotlight, he needs to brainstorm with his handlers. This democratic band effort places Hagerty’s most mediocre songs on a pedestal.

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