Swede Surrender


Truth be told, the chatter of the fanzine dumbigentsia was almost enough to keep me from listening to the Hellacopters’ Grande Rock for months.

Don’t know about you, but the “Hail-hail-it-sounds-like-the-Stooges-MC5-Detroit-rock-under-ground” shtick wore me out 15 years ago. It was a canard when a handful of miscellaneous dumbasses and rock critics tried to pass off Australia as the new Michigan then, and it’s even more suspect—wherever the locale—now. Midnight Oil, Lime Spiders, Died Pretty, Radio Birdman, the Hitmen. My, they all were right up there with the Ted Nugents and Grand Funks riffwise, weren’t they?

(In fact, can you tell me why it was that not one of the blessed lot of them ever thought to cop Nugent’s licks or swing? He was from Michigan, too, right? I know: Ted’s [said in your best timorous whine] a sexaholic, a homophobe, a right-wing Republican, a gun nut, narrow-minded on the recreational use of drugs and alcohol. He’s worse than Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden combined! Eh, so’s yer old man—I’d still trade 50 cover versions of the MC5’s “Looking at You” for one “Hey Baby.”)

Anyway, all the fanzine clichés were poor indicators for the Hellacopters. They toured with the Dictators in Europe! (Oh, wow, they played in dumps south of Trondheim as opposed to dumps south of the Mason-Dixon line. . . . ) Rock’s dead in the U.S.A. and only the Swedes know how to do it right! (My ass—ZZ Top’s XXX has been in my CD player more than anything European or underground in the past few months.) And good ol’ MC5 riffs: salt o’ the earth! (“MC5/Stooges” has become unconscious secret code for “it’s a bunch of crap.”)

The clincher was the review section on Amazon. Fans complained that Grande Rock was a betrayal. Dissed it for not being Supershitty or Payin’ the Dues enough: the unforgivable sin of sounding less clumsy and more arenalike! By their archived electrons, so shall the Philistines be revealed.

It was time to make a move.

Grande Rock stayed in the CD changer for five hours straight. Mostly, I think, it was because of two things: a rhythm section that knows how to shake a leg and the clever employment of a keyboard player who sounds like Benmont Tench. Just at the place where yet another crescendo of power guitar would get monotonous on someone else’s record, the Hellacopters sneak in a triumphant B3 fill. It sounds great in the creases of “The Electric Index Eel” and “Venus in Force,” which also uses some Pete Townshend windmills on acoustic guitar to great effect. “Lonely” twists, shouts, and has call-and-response vocals and a feel that seems to steal accidentally from Mott the Hoople. Grande Rock ends on a crushing AC/DC riff, slathered with harmonica rather than Bon Scott, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Plus there’s only one overt MC5 homage—it’s called “Dogday Afternoon,” and it’s “City Slang” by the Sonic’s Rendezvous Band revisited. It’s easy to skip.

However, I don’t get the Kiss references: The song “Paul Stanley” just doesn’t sound boring enough. If Kiss sounded this lively, you’d be listening to more than the first album and a small part of Alive these days. (Well, are you? I don’t think so.)

A truly clever record label might consider using whatever monetary blandishments necessary to pry Mutt Lange away from Shania Twain for a moment, for the benefit of a future Hellacopters recording. Or maybe Vanda & Young’d do.