I have a completely-filled 120 GB iPod classic, the record crate of the digital age, containing my entire music library. I’m listening to each release in alphabetical order by record title – kind of a virtual archaeological dig. These are my findings.
Why Astro Creep 2000 shouldn’t work.
It’s not that it shouldn’t work, I guess – the expectations were pretty high going into this record, as White Zombie’s previous album, La Sexcorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, boosted the visibility of the band outside of the New York noise rock scene that birthed them. And by “boosted their visibility” I actually mean it went freaking double platinum. Beavis and Butthead dug their crap. (Maybe that right there is the best reason why this album should have tanked.) But the groove metal that dominated La Sexorcisto’s sound was sharpened for a harder edge, and combined with singer Rob Zombie’s penchant for inserting horror- and exploitation-film samples, Astro Creep came out sounding like a long-lost cousin of Ministry’s Filth Pig. Sounds like a recipe for a lot less fun, right? And of course at the time the country was mired in the nu-metal and Warped Tour tarpit of the lowest common denominator, so where would a new White Zombie record fit in? Well, fortunately, it rises above the dreck of the Disturbeds and Drowning Pools of the world (who admittedly rose to prominence after this record, but who am I to ruin a good comparison?), and actually happens to be a pretty good record. But it has some miscues, such as the “Pepper”-predicting “Real Solution #9” (Butthole Surfers’ Electriclarryland was released a year after Astro Creep, and it sounds like Gibby Haynes and co. may have digested a bit of it). “Creature of the Wheel” is one of the more boring sleaze metal tracks they’ve done, and “Blur the Technicolor” is a stumbling block between the awesomely titled “El Phantasmo and the Chicken Run Blast-O-Rama” and the slithering and menacing closer, “Blood, Milk, and Sky.” I almost include “I, Zombie” on the miss list, but I go back and forth on it.
Why Astro Creep 2000 actually works.
Because it’s a whole freaking load of fun. Even though the go-go and boogie influences are toned down, they still peek through, especially in the groovy “Electric Head Part 2: The Ecstacy” and “More Human than Human.” You can totally picture the mod chicks in their knee-high white boots and miniskirts freaking out while spinning this LP. And there’s nothing Zombie likes more than injecting a bit of period sleaze into his music and lyrics. And that’s the kicker – why Astro Creep 2000, and White Zombie as a band, really work is because they’re having such an unbelievably good time and taking absolutely nothing seriously. There’s so much palpable fun on the record that it’s hard to dislike. The band revels in the cartoonish horror and camp humor perpetuated in the B-movies and exploitation flicks they grew up with, delivering a haunted-house carnival ride of murder and mayhem. (They even add mysterious church organ in places, notably at the beginning of “Grease Paint and Monkey Brains.”) “Super-Charger Heaven” features the “Devil Man / running in my head,” “Electric Head Part 2” quotes Shaft with “I just said ‘Up yours, baby,’” and Zombie exclaims in “El Phantasmo” that he’s a “plague in an 18-wheeler / get behind the wheel I’m gonna drive.” All this with larger-than-life industrial-groove rhythms, blistering guitar, and distorted vocals. It’s a goofy, ridiculous, brain-scrambling rush, winking deliciously and obviously at the fanboy and underground film buff in all of us. (I think Chris and Matt both “get” this album – big time. Even if it’s not necessarily their style.) And both parts of “Electric Head” as well as “More Human than Human” (which features an unashamed sample of a woman mid-coitus) deserve their status as the album’s focal points – they kick some severe ass.
Why none of this matters: Happy Halloween!
I haven’t listened to this album since high school – and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it beyond the first listen, if even that. But I can have fun, I’m not a grumpy old bastard yet. And the timing is perfect – this is my last column before the Halloween weekend. Rob Zombie has possibly garnered his greatest fame as a film director in the years following the dissolution of White Zombie, and even though I’m not a fan of his films (Devil’s Rejects is really the only one I can get into, and I hate his Halloween remake), I get what he’s doing, and I feel like a deliriously over-sugared kid when watching any of the myriad horror marathons leading up to October 31. Just like Rob Zombie. His music, like these great, badly-aged but nostalgia-soaked films, is freaky escapism at its best. And as Astro Creep plays, what feels like the slightest tickle of a sinister Vincent Price or Bela Lugosi laugh brushes your brain stem like the first half-realization of a lurking menace. It urges you forward, imploring you to suspend disbelief even further, but it waits until you’ve gone past the brink to do something horrible to you. In these instances there’s a part of me that wants to be careful, but deep down, I just can’t wait to find out what happens. There’s neon danger at every turn, and it’s so enticing. So for God’s sake, if whoever’s in charge of the music at whatever Halloween party you’re at isn’t blaring this over the PA at some point, go to a different Halloween party. But whatever happens, make sure you leave a trail of blood in your wake.
RIYL: Ministry, Monster Magnet, The Misfits