"You've got an attitude" might be a put-down coming from a parent or an assistant principal, but it's high praise when directed at a rock band. Doom Kounty Electric Chair, a vehicle for veteran Southern California singer Jose Cruz, provides a lesson in attitude, while Funhole, a talented, emerging band from Cypress, is still learning.
Cruz came out of the same mid-'80s Cerritos rock scene that spawned Burning Tree and its noted guitarist, Marc Ford, who went on to play in the Black Crowes. Doom Kounty's sound isn't original, and the drawled, half-buried lyrics, when decipherable, amount to typical dead-end-kid insults, threats, boasts and unrepentant confessions.
Still, the essence of Doom Kounty's debut CD is the sheer, cranking swagger and clout unleashed in all-out rockers such as the album-closing "Burn." In that bracing number, Cruz revives the raucous, battering-ram ethic of the MC5, the rabble-rousing band from Detroit that was the rudest thing around, circa 1968.
Elsewhere, Doom Kounty often suggests a street-level version of the Cult. Cruz's limited vocal range doesn't permit him the arena-god stance that Ian Astbury carried off with his siren-like bellow, but he does fine playing it looser and more raunchy than the big-rock aspirations of the Cult or Billy Idol (another occasional sound-alike) allowed.
Along with its heavy-rock side, Doom Kounty has a knack for pop hooks. That gives the album a second gear, even though it doesn't change speeds much while hurtling from song to song. (Movie sound bites interspersed between numbers add a wry, irreverent spin.)
"Desperate" and "Babykisser" are revved-up pop songs that recall Dramarama at its most aggressive and look back to the New York Dolls, early masters of messy, guttersnipe rock 'n' roll in which the thing wasn't so much how accurately you played but how much attitude you could put across.
One caveat: When I saw Doom Kounty Electric Chair play at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana last year, the band wasn't cohesive enough to bring its material alive. Cruz seemed to be laboring to project attitude, rather than exuding it naturally.
That droning first encounter made the CD an unexpected pleasure; perhaps that show was a bumpy patch in the trial-and-error process of turning one man's studio project into a live band's unified statement.
Good melodic instincts and a solidly rocking instrumental attack make Funhole's debut CD consistently listenable, albeit a tad repetitious.
Lead singer Geoff Yeaton has a hearty, extra-husky voice, and he sometimes solos or doubles a guitar lead on saxophone, bringing to mind Mott the Hoople or early Psychedelic Furs. Pink Floyd's wistful "Wish You Were Here" seems to be the touchstone for the sad ballad "Pathetic Little Freak."
Yet the package isn't complete. Funhole's lyrics are colorlessly functional sketches of barroom encounters or elegiac moods of romantic loss.
Yeaton doesn't supply the tongue-in-cheek slant or witty bite that could have turned "Doll Hut Slut," with its scenario of a guy using the old I'm-a-poor-lost-lamb seduction ploy, into a sly look at human foibles.
Instead, he plays it sincere, as usual, when he should have been puncturing lines like "And my heart is slowly bleeding / Just give me your love and I'll be saved."
The closing track, "Smyrna, De." builds on promising material: a news account of a murderer whose last statement before being electrocuted was a shout to his lawyer: "Hey, Jerry, my soul is free, man." Funhole gives it a Social Distortion-like hefty chug but misses the wired desperation and defiance needed to make the moment remarkable.
For reasons both artistic and cheaply punning, we'd love to hear a cover version by Doom Kounty Electric Chair.
(Persuasion Records, P.O. Box 133, Anaheim CA 928158 CKG. E-mail: email@example.com. One Night Fling Records, P.O. Box 2473, Cypress, CA 90630. Internet: http://www.cyber-rock.com/funhole.
* Doom Kounty Electric Chair and Funhole play tonight at Club Mesa, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. 9 p.m. (714) 642-8448.
Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with three stars denoting a solid recommendation.