The press release for the latest Local H record Hallelujah! I’m A Bum will tell you that the 17 track double album is a sarcastic look at the deeply divided political climate in the U.S. and beyond using the windy city of Chicago as a backdrop. While that statement is true, it just scratches the surface of what the album achieves; Hallelujah! is more than just a look at where we are as a nation – it’s the modern day soundtrack of survival for the generation of grownups who were teens back when Bound For The Floor blew up the charts. The fact that it will piss off both sides of the political divide is simply the icing on a dense, multi-layered cake.
Hope may have been a campaign slogan four years ago, but Hallelujah! channels the hopeless feeling so many Americans feel each and every day. The opening track Waves begins with sounds of dogs barking and trains running along the tracks. These sounds slowly fade away and transform into thick yet dreamy chords which serve as a backdrop for the snarky lyrics We Get Set Free In Waves Again/We’re Saved Again/When No One Rises Up and No One Wises Up. Before you have a moment to truly let these digest into your cranium, the duo made up of guitarist and vocalist Scott Lucas and drummer Brian St. Clair seamlessly throw you into the album’s second song Cold Manor. A not so friendly reminder that our schools have done an outstanding job of preparing us to settle for an existence of living a lie and running in place until we die, Cold Manor makes you want to go back to the days of small desks and frigid walls armed with the wealth of life experience you have gained since you were handed a diploma at the age of 18. Yet no matter how hard you try, you can’t change the path. Once you are stuck in the endless loop you are stuck for good.
One of the remarkable things on Hallelujah! is the way the band has grouped songs together. The album’s first single Night Flight To Paris, with its pounding palm muted guitar riffs pairing perfectly with the near militant drumming of St. Clair, flows perfectly out of Cold Manor. In fact if you were not paying attention, you may very well think you were still listening to Waves. This along with themes of trains and dogs continue over the course of the album hammering home the endless cycle of stupidity we can never overcome as Americans.
They Saved Reagan’s Brain kicks off the second grouping of songs and I think I can safely say it’s the greatest rock song about trickle-down economics in the history of music. While the chorus feels light and fluffy with a catchy riff and plenty of ohh ohh ohhh’s, it’s the verses that truly hit home to all of us stuck in the middle.
Yeah it’s all right/yeah it’s okay/you can move up through the corporate ranks/There’s no use crying with the Chinese coming/and I don’t want to see this world burn no more.
When not talking about penetrating Wall Street or flipping houses, the most eerie moment of Reagan’s Brain comes from the lips of our 40th President himself. The band’s use of an excerpt from Reagan’s famed 1983 Evil Empire speech puts the exclamation point on the often ignored lesson that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
The Windy City truly comes into play with the hard hitting 1-2 punch of Blue Line and Another February. One must wonder if the homeless man at the end of Blue Line sharing about how he rides the rails to avoid freezing to death was a victim of Reagan-era mental health cuts or not. Even if you have not experienced a frigid Midwestern winter, I think most of us can relate to the struggle found within Another February. Images of stacks of bill unpaid and cars engines refusing to crank could make even the most wealthy individual feel as if he were hopelessly drowning in the free world. The band doesn’t just hit you with heavy in the heart lyrics. The instrumentation during the verses slowly builds and builds, placing a giant weight upon you in the same manner as life does to us all from time to time. An additional guitar lick here, an extra drum beat there, you can feel it coming and you can fight it all you want but there is no stopping the hard hitting riffs as the chorus explodes in a ball or anger and rage much like a human who has simply had enough. Unless you are missing a soul, it is next to impossible to make it through Another February without a sinking feeling in your stomach and a knot in your throat.
Say The Word serves as the calm after two brutal storms of chaos and anger thrown upon you by Local H. The soft acoustic melody starts off sounding more like something Scott Lucas and the Married Men would perform versus a song on a Local H record, Say The Word is a much needed brief glimmer of hope that slowly builds into Cold and Mannered. A slightly murkier version of Cold Manor, the brief number once again reminds you that we are simply running in place and believing their lies until we die.
Where the first half of Hallelujah! focuses on the struggle of living the lie that is the American Dream, the second half takes aim at just how out of our minds this has made all of us. Feed A Fever is designed to get stuck in your head much like the fear fed to us from the 24 hour cable news cycle while Here Come Ol’ Laptop takes that classic bass pick up implanted into the guitar Local H sound and mixes it with horns reminiscent of the band Chicago.
I don’t know if Local H will make many friends with the borderline insulting country flavored Look Whose Walking On All Four Legs Again, but the fact is they are dead on when they declare that we are all nothing more than a bunch of dogs down on our hands and knees trying to adapt to a life where we have been downsized from scraps to crumbs. While Ruling Kind takes a non-partisan look at kicking inefficient politicians to the curb, the song it slowly evolves into is anything but fair and balanced. As Lucas repeatedly sings Limit Your Change over chugging riffs and distant horn squeals, audio snippets from the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney serve as a reminder that these individuals are stuck in a destructive pattern of destroying the nation they claim to love. For as frustrating as it is to hear Caribou Barbie wish Ronald Reagan a happy birthday, it’s far more devastating to think that we could very well elect an individual who takes great joy in firing people to rule our nation for the next four years.
Taking further aim at those who hate our black, allegedly Muslim president from Kenya, Paddy Considine features a Peter Gunn inspired riff while mocking the middle age male who loves Fox News and just can’t wrap his head around the fact that the “white man” no longer has a say in American today.
The album begins to wrap with Sad History. The slow and somber song plays like the relationship between two broken lovers who keep repeating the same mistake. Taken out of context one could very well think it’s about a man and a woman and not a patriot and his country. Despite the bleak and depressing picture that has been painted for nearly 90 minutes, the roaring build up of Sad History is what we felt four years ago. It’s the moment of hope that we can still turn this around and make what is so damaged and so broken proud and strong and healthy once again.
Much like the vicious cycle of politics in America, Hallelujah! I’m A Bum leaves you right back where you started in the first place. Waves Again is a harder rocking version of the album’s opening song with the additional lines of stock market crashes and Superman saying Yes We Can added in to throw some more salt on the open wounds of a nation.
With Hallelujah! Local H has successfully done what both Romney and Obama failed to do at their recent conventions: they don’t just tell you how fucked we are, they make you feel it over and over again. You can feel the struggle of the middle class, the hopelessness of knowing that neither party cares for the ones who elect them into power and the overwhelming fact that we have grown so far apart as a nation that it’s going to take more than a miracle to bring us back together. While many of the ideas found on the record may lean more left than right, the fact is America has become one giant bad joke that is destined to repeat itself time and time again rather than learning from the mistakes of the past. In a day and age where great politically charged bands like Pearl Jam, Bad Religion and Rage Against The Machine lie dormant, Local H has made a stellar soundtrack that truly represents the great struggles of our time. When that trickle-down cash finally hits your wallet, make sure you pick this album up as an impulse item when you clog the aisles of your local box store.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.