ARTS

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April 20, 2004

Local H search for P.J. Soles, find selves in process

Any horror movie guru can certainly tell you about P.J. Soles. Carrie didn't turn prom into a massacre for no reason—P.J. Soles's vicious character drove her to do it. Oh, and don't forget her fine role as Jamie Lee Curtis's best friend in Halloween. That was one to remember. In fact, it was almost as astonishing as her portrayal of a Ramones fan in Rock ‘n' Roll High School. But, wait: Do you still have no idea who I am talking about? That's probably because P.J. has completely dropped off the face of Hollywood (and has retreated to small international film roles). If she had any acting career left—even one resembling Gary Coleman's—her name might be somewhat recognizable.

And this is where P.J. Soles's career and Local H's dovetail. A more fitting title for their recently released album Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? might be Whatever Happened to Local H? Whether the band intended to appear self-referential is debatable, but if they did, they certainly drive the point home with songs like, "Where Are They Now?" and lyrics that ponder where fallen stars go. Still, if they are merely reminiscing over forgotten horror film stars, couldn't they have chosen someone better? I always liked that girl in Nightmare on Elm Street. She had some excellent hair.

The point is that P.J. Soles never became a household name—and neither did Local H. Though they make attempt after attempt to recover some of the fame they garnered in their "Bound for the Floor" days (a.k.a. the copacetic song)—earning them a spot on music festival stages and "top 9 at 9" lists—they never unravel the tightly knit boundaries of fame. Local H has produced five LPs in the past seven years, highly-rated by fans but almost entirely ignored by critics. Some of their songs, like 1996's "Eddie Vedder," hoisted their chart status. However, the majority of their material receives little airplay and even less media attention.

In America, Local H is on the b-list of rock 'n' roll fame. In Chicago, they are local heroes. They perform at the Double Door every Halloween as the band of their choice (in the past, they have resurrected the Doors and Guided by Voices) complete with costumes and enough liquor to supply a small country. They are staples at both the Metro and Schuba's. This may be because lead singer/guitarist/love of my life Scott Lucas is from northern suburb Zion (where he met original drummer Joe Daniels). Although Daniels and Lucas split after 1998's remarkable Pack Up The Cats, Lucas found drummer Brian St. Clair (of Triple Fast Action) with whom he generated Here Comes the Zoo and the No Fun EP. Regardless of why they remain Chicago's house band, one thing is for certain: at least someone remembers what good music sounds like.

Even after a decade of angry rock, Lucas has not lost his passion for hollering with the vengeance of a stood-up teenage girl on prom night. Track after track, St. Clair turns out drums that firmly juxtapose Lucas's guitar riffs. Even though the band is technically a duo, the album never suffers from banality or lack of energy. Lucas and St. Clair shell out the brand of rock 'n' roll they've been playing for years—but on this disc, they have finally mastered it. That's not to say that there aren't some weaker moments—namely, the radio-tailored abomination "California Songs." However, Local H have finally found a way to balance their catchiness with their hardness. On this album, they raid quite a few genres, all the while incorporating their proclivity for varied guitar outbursts and thumping drums.

It all begins with a Hamfisted-like brawl between drums and guitar and overarching high-pitched screams. This lasts for a little more than a minute but segues powerfully into standout track "Everyone Alive." Track five "Money on the Dresser" doesn't need a mouthful of lyrics to stick out as one of the best on the album—the grungy jaunt needs only several "bippity-wo"'s and a pounding succession of drums to succeed. The same stands for "How's the Weather Down There?" which combines heavy-metal guitar riffs and overly catchy verses that stick to your cranium like wood glue. For lighter fare, see "Hey, Rita," with its Beatles-esque intro and saccharine melody—but don't forget to come back for seconds of "Heavy Metal Bakesale" to douse your appetite for Lucas's unparalleled screeches and St. Clair's drumstick tantrums.

Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? may not be the best Local H disc out there, but it is certainly a worthy edition to their music catalog. For those rediscovering the "H," return to their roots. If you've been a fan all along, don't pass this one up—it beats Here Comes the Zoo. Though Lucas claims to have "Mellowed," don't believe him. The hardcore energy survives in the cleaner, clear-cut dialogue between drums and guitar. This album won't give P.J. Soles a career boost, but it does prove that Local H aren't has-beens. They've just been playing behind the scenes.