Album Review - Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool Reissue
Fucking Roadrunner Records. They’re like the Anchor Bay of music. Almost every new album they put out gets a reissue within twelve months of release, and it’s usually mostly worth it. I guess they’re not quite as bad as the Bay since I’m not on my fifth copy of any Slipknot albums yet (whereas I did just buy Evil Dead for the fifth time), but they are reliable double-dippers.
In the case of Zombie’s newest album it hurts even more since this is the fourth time I’ve spent money on something under the Hellbilly Deluxe 2 moniker. First was the album itself, next was a set of iTunes exclusive bonus tracks (which I will discuss in this review since I didn’t cover them in my original), then another copy of the album to get signed at the Mayhem festival and finally this new version.
The reissue features three brand new tracks and an alternate version of The Man Who Laughs with a new Joey Jordison drum solo. It also comes with a DVD with videos for Mars Needs Women and School’s Out (w/ Alice Cooper); and a tour documentary.
Rob Zombie – Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls and the Systematic Dehumanization of Cool
By Phantom Troublemaker
I was anticipating Hellbilly Deluxe 2 more than any other album in 2009. Then Rob Zombie went all crazy, told Geffen to fuck off and took his toys to Roadrunner. I can’t track down the whole story as to what happened, but it seems like it was a long time coming. The album has apparently been finished since May of 2008, so you can bet the troubles started around then. All I can tell you for sure is that it must have had something to do with creator’s rights or proprietary control, because Zombie sure as hell didn’t get better promotion or distribution. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 came out without a peep, and Best Buy had three copies when I bought it. Maybe I’m a little behind the times as to just how dominant digital distribution and promotion is, but as recently as Educated Horses in 2007 we had TV spots, radio play and reasonably sized in-store displays. In 2009, Zombie doesn’t even have a single on the radio – not in Atlanta, anyway.
But we’re not here to discuss business models. Hellbilly Deluxe 2 finally came out on February 2nd, and we’re here to talk about whether or not it rocks your fucking balls off. It does, but maybe not at first.
I had to listen to the album all the way through three times before I loved it. The first time I wasn’t even sure I liked it. Once I started writing this review, though, I remembered that all of Zombie’s albums have been that way for me. Here’s the play-by-play:
Maybe not the best opening track for me personally, but that’s because it borders on blasphemous and I’m not totally comfortable with that. The song doesn’t actually have anything to do with J.C., it’s about some kind of monster savior. I think the idea is as simple as “Jesus Frankenstein” being a cool-sounding contradiction of terms. Musically, this is a pretty solid opening track.
Sick Bubble Gum
This is the song where the fun really kicks in. This is definitely Rob Zombie’s zaniest album to date and it starts with this track. This is a head-bobber that you won’t be able to help singing along with.
Apparently What? was the first single released from Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (although in places cooler than Atlanta), and that fact blows my mind because this song is goofy as hell. I think it’s my favorite track on the album. It is entirely different from anything else Zombie has done and it works very well. This song sounds like what I thought the first Hellbilly Deluxe was going to be.
“Mars needs women, angry red women,” might be the best opening line of any song, ever. This track is super-heavy and is probably the one I would have gone with to open the album.
The music on this one is great, but for some reason the lyrics seem bland to me. The track has a real country flavor to it mixed with shades of T. Rex’s Get It On (of all things) and is another one that stands out as being part of Zombie’s new, slightly more whimsical approach.
Nothing special here, just solid Zombie. This one would fit in on anything else Zombie has done and is good. I think it was put here to cleanse the palate and prepare you for the next wacky track…
Death and Destiny Inside the Dream Factory
This is another crazy song that defies categorization. It seems to be about Hollywood sucking and being awesome at the same time. Not a new theme, but definitely one of the most awesome ways I’ve heard it presented.
I made this Edge’s entrance music in the new Smackdown game and it works really well. This should be a single.
Cease to Exist
I hesitate to classify this as a “listen to it while you’re high song”, but… No, never mind. This is definitely a drug song. That doesn’t mean it isn’t good when you’re sober, or Lord knows I’d never get to enjoy it (thanks, DOT-regulated job); Cease to Exist is just one of those songs. You’ll know what I mean when you hear it. It feels like it should have been twenty-seven minutes long.
Werewolf Women of the SS
This is the obligatory song referencing a Zombie film project and it is very, very good. It’s sort of rockabilly-ish and immediately got put in my Halloween Spookshow playlist. Where the fuck is an El Superbeasto song? I mean other than Superbeast.
The Man Who Laughs
Okay, this is actually my favorite song on the album. I would use this as entrance music if I were a wrestler and not a fictional personality. It starts off all moody and creepy and then just starts rocking your face off. I guarantee this will be an encore at live shows. The track weighs in at over eight minutes, but a shortened version would make a great single. I love this fucking song.
To paraphrase some old Primus marketing materials: “If you didn’t like Rob Zombie before, you probably still won’t…”. There’s nothing here that is going to convert Zombie-haters, but Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is one hell of an album. Zombie tries some new things and, surprisingly, they all work. The only place the album stumbles is on the couple of songs that sound like older Zombie material, and that’s not really a bad thing. Those tracks don’t lack quality, they’re just not as exciting as all the new stuff the band is experimenting with.
In closing, I’d like to mention how awesome Hellbilly Deluxe 2’s packaging is. It is easily some of the most eye-catching design I have ever seen and really makes me sad about the demise of physical album releases. You see, Zombie has stated that this will be his last actual CD release. Thumbing through the booklet and looking at Zombie’s artwork – collages of horror icons, carnival imagery and, of course, his naked almost-wife; Sherri – it really depresses me that this facet of music is ending. Holding the artwork for a new collection of music is something that dates back to my childhood, and is as much a part of the experience of getting a new album as anything. I hate to see it go. Looking at that little square beside the album title on your monitor just isn’t the same.
4 out of 5 Papa Oom Mow-Mow’s
In other words, I liked it a lot. And I still do. I’ve listened to HD2 many times since buying it and I think it is my favorite of Zombie’s work so far, which is part of the reason I was so willing to drop twenty bucks (!) for the reissue. Here’s what I thought of the new material:
Devil’s Hole Girls and the Big Revolution is probably a better intro than Jesus Frankenstein.
Everything is Boring is more standard Zombie fare. I dig it, but it isn’t anything as exciting as some of the more experimental songs on the album.
Michael isn’t disappointing so much as it is… unsurprising. All of Zombie’s movie-related songs seem to follow the formula of, “Hey, Bloodletting is a great song! Let’s make this sound kind of like that,”
And I mean, they do it well and all, but this is song number three about a Rob Zombie movie that pretty much sounds a lot like Concrete Blonde’s vampire anthem. I was excited that there was going to be a Halloween-themed song because I did actually feel that we were lacking one – all of Zombie’s other movie projects have themes if you count Superbeast as matching up with El Superbeasto (which it sort of but not really does).
The DVD was the thing I was the most excited about for this release.
Rob Zombie videos are always something to look forward to. They are like little mini-movies that you always wish went on a lot longer than they do. Zombie’s skill for directing these psychedelic visual thrill rides is what got him making movies in the first place.
Mars Needs Women seemed ready-made for a new psycho-sexual Zombie trip. I could just imagine Sherri Zombie running across blasted, hyper-colored landscapes trying to escape giant robots and murderous (or perhaps horny) Martians. There would be low-budget laser battles and miniatures exploding, like some MST3K feature.
Unfortunately, Mars Needs Women is concert footage. Blah. I like live shows just fine, but in the context of watching an entire live show; whether in person or recorded. I have never been a fan of music videos that were comprised of live footage. To me, the music video is a place to do what Zombie normally does – make a visual narrative to make the song more than it is on its own. Concert footage in lieu of that just seems lazy to me. But at least the sound quality of Mars Needs Women is great.
Not so much for the School’s Out duet featuring Zombie and past (and current again) tour mate Alice “The Scariest Golfer in the World” Cooper. It is also footage from a live show, but that’s kind of okay since that’s the only form this particular version of School’s Out has ever taken. But the sound is shit.
So far the not-at-all-bonus-because-you-paid-for-it DVD features two relatively crappy music videos (made even crappier when compared to standard Zombie fare). How’s the tour documentary?
I had no idea what to expect from Transylvanian Transmissions. I had seen it referred to as a tour documentary, but had also seen a track listing. I was hoping for something along the lines of Michael Lives or (the Devil’s doc), but about the Gruesome Twosome tour. The track listings made me think it was going to be more along the lines of a full live show.
Transylvanian Transmissions was kind of both and neither.
It’s basically a bunch of footage Zombie shot on the tour with music tracks interspersed. There’s no narration or commentary and the music tracks are played for less than a minute at a time and broken up across the feature. It’s very cool and exactly the sort of thing I’d expect from Zombie, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a really long trailer for a larger project. Clocking in at around thirty minutes, this thing is too long to be dismissed but too short to feel worthwhile.
I would love to see a full-fledged doc rather than just a series of images and sounds. I enjoyed Transylvanian Transmissions, but I can’t honestly say it was a can’t-miss experience.
So. How does everything add up? Does the new content make this reissue a worthy purchase?
No – and it pains me a little to say that. I have never been sorry for buying anything that Rob Zombie has produced, but this release just wasn’t worth the price. If it had been regular album price, with the DVD packed in as a bonus I would feel a lot better about it. But for twenty bucks there just isn’t enough here. The three new songs and the re-recording of The Man Who Laughs are the only things that I consider must-haves, and I could have bought those individually for a total of about four bucks (or less, I’m not sure). If you like Zombie at all and don’t already own another version of Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (which seems rather unlikely) then this is the one I would get. Otherwise, just download the new songs and avoid the absurd price.
2 out of 5
Until tomorrow, stay creepy