As a loud, cheeky, self-aware band with a rabid fan base, Turbonegro seems almost immune to criticism. Don't get the joke? You're either completely square or you've never tried to reconcile your inner Kiss militiaman with your inner punk purist. It's okay, though. That's why people call 'em a cult band.
The cult has been expanding for the past half-decade, though, probably because Turbonegro is both exotic and familiar: Neither a washed-up metal group nor a grunge nostalgia act, the Norwegian sextet plays black-leather anthems that sound fresher than anything on your favorite crusty FM station. Mix in some Goth/Village People outfits and plenty of double-entendres, and the potential for stupid fun seems endless.
Not so fast, though: "Party Animals," Turbonegro's sixth disc, is a wee bit creaky in places, even if the guitar riffage is generally massive as ever and the lyrics (all in English) still walk the fine line between pleasingly cheesy and obviously pungent. "You think I'm fat, but it's an optical illusion," heavily eyelinered frontman Hank von Helvete sings on one track as the group's multiple six-stringers conjure some aural testosterone. Funny, sure, but not dangerously funny.
It's much of the same throughout "Party Animals," from the Billy Squier-style intro of "City of Satan" to the roadhouse roller "Wasted Again" and the orchestrally backed finale, "Final Warning." Turbonegro's mission of depravity seemed far more fiery and feral a half-decade ago, when the band was just starting to get traction stateside with the classic "Apocalypse Dudes." Sigh.
The Makers seem to be on the longer end of a similar decline.
Forming in the early 1990s, the Spokane, Wash., band predated just about every garage-rock revival act around, playing two-minute burners that recalled the ragged Pacific Northwest sounds of the '60s.
Somewhere along the way, though, old-fashioned glam rock became the band's MO, and the newly assumed sonic sophistication -- which fully manifested itself on 2000's "Rock Star God" -- revealed a painful truth: The Makers were better as a glorious, amateurish mess. Anything above and beyond is a stretch, and the new disc, "Everybody Rise!," rarely seems to find a sweet spot between the band's true nature and its ambitions.
Sure, "Good as Gold" has an electrifying chorus that could sell records in any era, and "Run With Me Tonight" and "Promises for Tomorrow" are worthy attempts at re-creating the loose romanticism that Marc Bolan brought to T. Rex. But much of "Everybody Rise!" struggles to sound remotely inspired or ferocious. Even a loaded lament like "Sex Is Evil (When Love Is Dead)" would be better in the hands of an off-Broadway performer with a fixation on "Hedwig and the Angry Inch."
The theatrics of singer Michael Maker are a little flat, unfortunately. His falsetto on "Ordinary Human Love" is more believable and Jaggeresque, but he ultimately hamstrings himself with lyrics like "my love is just a stupid emotion." It's all so ordinary, and maybe a little tragic, too.
Turbonegro is scheduled to appear Oct. 7 at Baltimore's Sonar Lounge; the Makers are scheduled to appear Sept. 18 at DC9.