After an almost twenty-year hiatus between studio albums, Neil Michael Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema, the king and queen of indie sleaze rock who go by Royal Trux, have returned with White Stuff. If the record’s title and cover, which features a glass mirror besmirched with white powder, may seem suspiciously on the nose (no pun intended) for a band in-part recognized for their notoriously druggy inclinations, you can breathe easy knowing the duo’s grand return finds the pair rediscovering a gloriously scuzzy groove to match White Stuff’s only somewhat tongue-in-cheek graphic representation.
The album’s title track opens things with very little foreplay, quickly jumping into a chord progression reminiscent of a slowed-down garage punk take on Sonic Youth’s “Disappearer”. “This is the way it’s supposed to be, push me on a car to the duty-free,” Hagerty and Herrema sing in tandem, and it’s as if no time has passed. Both band members’ voices sound as deliciously strained and world-weary as they did nearly two decades ago. Over a driving beat and spaced-out electronics, Hagerty’s fiery lead guitar takes center stage on the opening bars of “Year of the Dog”. The song chaotically dives in and out with the synth accompaniment at times sounding like something from Pleasure Principle-era Gary Numan before downshifting into whooshing waves and frenetic bleeps and bloops. At just over two minutes, “Year of the Dog” makes for a stunningly fast blast of noisy rock madness that doubles as a decent setup for the psych-tinged “Purple Audacity #2” which follows and finds Herrema’s vocals in the front of the mix.
The first of White Stuff’s finest moments is realized with the arrival of “Suburban Junkie Lady”, a midtempo track that puts Hagerty’s vocals up front over a laidback groove and an endlessly crying lead guitar. Herrema joins in on the chorus which seems to suggest the song’s namesake holds her own when someone drives by and throws a sandwich at her. The last minute of “Suburban Junkie Lady” finds the crying guitar replaced with a single-note solo joined with congas and a long fadeout. The second of White Stuff’s finest moments arrives with the genre-blending “Get Used to This”. Here, abstract rapper Kool Keith joins Herrema on vocals as he raps about champion pizza (?), a hot tea kettle, and makes repeated references to “Tougher Than Leather”, an album by hip hop group Run-D.M.C. who are perhaps best known in some circles for their own rock/rap collaboration with Aerosmith on the Rick Rubin-produced “Walk this Way”.
The back-to-back songs “Sic Em Slow” and “Every Day Swan” are a letdown after the immediate catchiness and fun originality of “Get Used to This”. This pair marks the weakest moment on the record. Things begin to turnaround, however, toward the end of “Whopper Dave” when Hagerty provides a well-timed guitar freakout. The surprisingly funky “Purple Audacity #1”, the album’s penultimate track, helps pull things back together just before the record wraps up. White Stuff is concluded with “Under Ice”, a song that starts off sounding like a hastily recorded, last-minute, rough studio throwaway until the fidelity switches into a higher quality and the track gives way to a decent phase-shifting finale.
While not perfect, White Stuff manages to deliver enough likable moments to warrant the return of Royal Trux and remind fans why they’ve loved and cared about this duo for so long. Between White Stuff and 2017’s live affair, Platinum Tips + Ice Cream, perhaps Hagerty and Herrema will be able to harness the momentum and can begin to record and release new Royal Trux studio albums on a more regular basis. We can only hope.