Sunday, November 10, 2002 @ 8:22 AM
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Let’s face it: whether you love him or hate him, you can’t ignore Ted Nugent. The man simply makes too much noise for that. Even today, he is probably one of the most controversial figures in rock music. It’s hard to find a middle ground here: there’s the bunch that loves him to death and hangs on his every word as though it came from God His Own Self, and then there’s the camp that can’t stand him and wouldn’t piss down his throat if his heart was on fire. They try to act dismissive, as though Ted’s too insignificant to trouble them too much, but you always get the feeling that they’re secretly a bit apprehensive as to what Uncle Ted will do next.
One of my favorite articles of clothing is a Ted Nugent T-shirt I got when I saw him open for Kiss on their so-called “farewell” tour.. On the back, it reads, “KISS MY ASS! I’M AN AMERICAN!” Never have I gotten such a response from random people by wearing any other piece of clothing. I probably wouldn’t draw as much attention if I walked around shirtless with peanut butter smeared on my chest. Comments range from the joyous “Hey, you like Nuge!” to the baffled, “You LIKE that guy?” to the curious “Doesn’t he, like, kill animals or something?” to the distasteful “Eeeuuuwww! Classic rock!” to the outright hostile “Ted Nugent is a xenophobic bigot and a murderer of beautiful creatures!” (I felt like responding to this last by remarking that Joe Leste would sure be interested to learn that, but the peasant-girl type who’d shouted at me from behind her Tibetan worry beads wouldn’t’ve gotten it anyway.) The great thing about Ted, though, is that unlike other “conservatives,” the religious right wants nothing to do with him either, which suits him just fine, I’m sure.
But it doesn’t really matter whether you like him or not, because Ted Nugent is going to go and do exactly what Ted Nugent damn well wants to do, thanks very much. And what he’s felt like doing recently can be heard and appreciated on Craveman, his first studio album for Spitfire Records, eagerly awaited by some, deeply dreaded by others. Initial reviews have said that it’s his best album in twenty years, and for once, they got it right.
What we have here is the same old Ted we know and love (I figure anybody still reading this is a fan, and if not, hey, I hear there’s a new Flaming Lips album that might be better suited to your tastes, so scamper off now, hear?) But rather than stagnating, ol’ Uncle Ted has some new tricks to show us. The first of these can be heard in the album’s opening track, “KLSTRPHNKY,” which, as near as I can gather, is pronounced “Clusterfuck meeeee!” The song actually surprised me a bit when I first heard it, because Ted tries on a modern sound for size. Don’t get scared, it’s still unmistakably Nuge-like, but something about the lurching groove and Ted’s continuing clownish pretense of being black reminds me of something one of the despised nu-metal bands might attempt, on a really good day. Like Alice Cooper before him, however, Nugent has snatched away the controls and shown the youngsters how it’s REALLY done. And there’s even a guitar solo, but of course there would be.
The album’s first single, “Crave,” is next, and boasts a pounding beat and heavy riff, with lots of improvisational squeals and wails from Ted’s guitar. Personally, I think this song could’ve been shortened up a bit, but every minute listening to Ted is one minute spent NOT listening to other shit, so I can’t complain too much.
You’ll want to stick around anyway though, because my favorite track is next. It’s the patriotic stomp of “Rawdogs and Warhogs,” already a concert staple. You’ll be singing along with the chorus, possibly waving a fist or two, about halfway through this song.
Ted’s old cronies from the Damn Yankees show up in “Damned If Ya Do.” Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw have writing credits on this one, but don’t favor us with their harmonizing, which is just as well. Terrible Ted himself does the vocal honors on this CD, and even if he’s not the greatest singer in the whole wide world, he’s one of those vocalists you can’t imagine anybody else doing the singing. “Damned If Ya Do” is one of those occasions. Ted feels the need to yowl out the chorus as though he’s narrowly escaped a mishap with a bear-trap, but for the life of me, I can’t think how else it should be. Nice gang-style “Hey!” chanting toward the end. This one is just a straight-up rocker.
Just in case we forgot, Ted reminds us of his love of the great outdoors on “At Home There,” a slower song with a darker, yet still warm feel to it, sort of like being in deep woods on a summer afternoon.
Of course, nobody, especially not Ted, can go for too long without a song about sex (except maybe the Flaming Lips—-goddamn, I’ve got it in for those goofs today!). I’m glad to see there are actually SEVERAL songs on Craveman that deal with the carnal delights, whereas Ted’s last album, 1995’s Spirit of the Wild seemed to focus mainly on poltics and ruling the jungle. In any case, Nuge puts down the bow and arrow long enough to think about procreating the species on “Cum n’ Getya Sum-o-This.” The song opens with some excellent basswork from Marco Mendoza, which continues on throughout the song. I swear, this rumbling bassline rivals that of the perennial favorite “Stranglehold.” Luckily, “Cum n’ Getya Sum-o-This,” despite its shortcomings in the spelling department, is a good deal shorter than that timeless classic. It almost seems too short, actually. Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds seems awfully short for a sedately-paced nugent song, at least on paper. But listening to the song, somehow, like a lot of things about this album that wouldn’t seem to work well until you listen to them, it sounds just right. Great bluesy solo here too, which isn’t just all squeal and squawk like some other songs are.
While we’re on the subject of sex, maybe we ought to tackle the weighty issue of transgender operations. Just in case you were wondering (and you know you were) Ted’s position on this one is non-negotiable: nobody goes NEAR his ‘nads with a scalpel. This is the basic thrust (Har!) of the song “Change My Sex.” Here, Ted missed a great opportunity to throw in a parentetical subtitle (“You’ll Never) Change My Sex”), but he makes up for it with a riff that is damn near metal rather than hard rock, and actually reminds me of something you might hear on a classic Judas Priest album. Nice!
You may remember, a couple years back, how there were grandiose plans in the works to reunite the Damn Yankees for another album. Tommy Shaw wasn’t available and nobody cares about Michael Cartellone anyway, so they were replaced with the drummer of Night Ranger and none other than ex-Brother Cane frontman Damon Johonson, despite the latter’s not actually being a Yankee. Technicalities! The man can write songs, and he lends his help to “I Won’t Go Away,” wherein nugent asserts, once again, that you c an’t get rid of him. I can actually hear a bit of the Brother Cane sound on this tune, but it’s the first-album kind of Brother Cane and not the grunge crap they got mixed up in on their later efforts. Nice time change at the end, by t he way, if not exactly necessary.
Hey, I can’t remember, have we done any songs about sex yet? Well, let’s do another, shall we? It’s time for “Pussywhipped,” a gleeful ode to poontang that should have fans of old squirming in their seats. It ain’t a bad thing to be pussywhipped in Ted’s book, says the man with the former sexual addiction. Sing along with the eminently sing-along-able chorus, and listen for the spoken part in the middle, where Ted gets scratched. That damn cat scratch fever strikes again! Nice saxophone licks at the end, provided by drummer Tommy Clufetos’s father.
After this, as much as I like Ted, the album starts to get a little boring. “Goin’ Down Hard” sounds good while it’s playing, but afterward, I have trouble remembering it. And we get a blatant rehashing of “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang,” in the form of “Wang Dang Doodle.” Gee, who could’ve guessed? It’s got the same opening, the title is sung in the same way, it ends the same way. It’s just slowed down to about half-speed. After that comes the unappetizing “My Baby Likes My Butter On Her Gritz.” Ted rummages through his kitchen, throwing out food-and-sex analogies left and right, in what he described as “my best dinner-song yet.” Unfortunately, I happened to have been eating one of the items listed in the song, so I could'’e done with out. The best thing about this one is the title, the song itself is rather bland. And I haven't touched a single grit since. (Does “grits” actually HAVE a singular form?)
Help me out here, did we do enough songs about sex? No? Okay, one more. “Sexpot has a slinky beat to it and some nifty finger-tapping guitar-licks, heavy on the wah, but not overly so. Kirk Hammett would’ve ruined this riff. But never mind him, because “Sexpot” is a song that’s sure to be a big hit in the titty bars, with its ass-shaking rhythm and leering lyrics. Leerics! Come to think of it, my pants are getting sorta tight just hearing the song.
The album closes with an instrumental, “Earthtones,” that is not unlike his classic “Homebound,” except “Earthtones” takes longer to get going. I liked it while I was listening to it, but can’t remember much of it now, except that it starts slow and acoustic and rather murky, and then goes electric before sort of disintegrating and fading out.
And there we have it. There are several things about this album that you might think you won’t like. For one, Ted does all the singing, whereas in the past, he’s usually had somebody to help out on at least some songs, be it Derek St. Holmes (the original), Charlie Huhn (a distant cousin of Joe Leste, perhaps Screeeeech!), Brian Howe (the breathy future voice of Bad Company in their ballad-heavy early’90’s days) or Dave Amato (can’t think of a single thing to say about him). But despite not being a great technical vocalist, Ted’s rough growls and yowls fit in perfectly with the music in most cases, although the balls-in-a-bear-trap screech can be a bit excessive. Also, Nugent actually (gasp!) tuned down his guitar on this one. No! Say it ain’t so! I thought that was for people who couldn’t play! It is, but Ted only tunes down a half-step, and only for the sake of making the riffs heavier and meatier-sounding. This proves that there IS a right way to play detuned guitar, and leave it to Ted to remind us how it’s done.
So if you’d just about given up on the Motor City Madman’s new studio work, fear not! Craveman is one of the few albums by veteran rockers (himself included) that actually lives up to the buzz.
And I think I’ve finally stumbled onto why some people hate Ted Nugent so much. It’s not the music, the politics, the hunting, or even the loudmouth. It’s jealousy. The man seems to be having altogether too much fun with his life, and that bothers people. Makes ‘em wonder how come THEY aren’t having as much fun as he is. Why can’t the rest of us go whooping through the jungle, confident in our abilities, seemingly without a care in the world, or at least without a care big enough that it’ll stop us from enjoying ourselves? And the crux of Ted’s message is: we CAN! If only you, or I, could have a fraction of the utter zeal and glee in life!
I think I want to BE Ted Nugent.
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