. issue X : vi .
. artist : drive like jehu .
. album : s/t .
. year : 1991 .
. label : cargo / headhunter .
. grade : a minus .
Drive Like Jehu’s self-titled debut, released on Headhunter in 1991, is an early manifestation of the dilapidated, demoralizing music they’d go on to make in Yank Crime. Mathy, yowling and caterwauling, Jehu saws the reins at every turn around portentous, often sophisticated lyricism focused on the bitter and blame-slinging intergenerational plight of San Diego’s working class (“I can sleep standing up and still look awake / For 6 bucks an hour, for 8 hours a day;” “I said, ‘Good luck in jail’ the last time I called home / I need somebody I can talk to, but I think I broke the phone;” and “Gotta cough, got the sniffles, / Saw a doctor, gotta match, / Gotta hammer, gotta nail, / Gotta casket, gotta match, / Gotta green card, gotta hassle, / Took a beatin’, gotta match, / Hey man, hey man, hey man, gotta match?” ).
Opener “Caress” bluffs potently with anticipatory plug-ins and whammy-bar-windups and an indignant wall of rapid strumming — cocooning into a blaring riff as Froberg plays the distraught card, reeling off, “Gracie, we’re makin babies, yea, we’re barefoot on the tiles / We make ’em soft and small and tender, it’s the biggest hazard of your gender” but, turnabout, counsels, “Gotta hold it by yourself.” “Caress” takes on increasingly depraved, selfish turns: “Gracie, hold yourself together, it’s bad now but it gets better / […] We’re all here to help.” But what are the true motions of the spectators — daddy included? Well, “everybody’s watching: they all wanna see it kick.” And the closing couplets describe this generational procession of accidental procreation, proceeding, decried and decrying, “Pleasure is your crime, junior is your punishment / Happens all the time, everybody rub it in. / It ain’t hard to find fault in any thing you do, / We learned to love the hard way, you’re gonna learn it too.” Drive Like Jehu’s narrative strength — the volatile up-the-ante, the moral closure — is inchoate.
Hand-me-down aberrations continue in “Spikes To You” — which is a uniquely crass way to say it…. “Spikes” sets a urban-suburbia scene: “’A’ frames, statuettes, sunset magazine / They’re lining up to do their jobs, but I swear to god I seen / Bits and guts and pieces hanging from the trees.” Froberg incites the father, “Pour some concrete, buy a sofa, lay your body down / Your kids are f-cking in your garbage / They’re waiting for your job / Got the mouths around your paycheck / Got joysticks for your saws.” Who’s ungrateful and underserved and undeserving? everyone, and peremptorily, too.
And “If It Kills You” is certainly the lyrical standout — it’s stood the test of time, and, unfortunately, may be even more relevant today. It begins with a bass-and-triangle rampage, drumstick claps urging on into a fiercely dissatisfied instro. Vocals use escalation on the second line, then bend down for the third, and the effect is catchy and declamatory. “If It Kills You” is full of smelly, viscous medicine and tight threats: “Learn to relax, if it kills you / You had your chance, hold on — ‘cause it’s gone!” “If” concludes with the pregnantly Jungian, “Sometimes I’m a mangler, sometimes I sleep on it / Sometimes I’m a hamburger, sometimes I dream of it,” which is a stunning account of the modern psyche’s sleeping off offenses and identifying with meat patties.
“Good Luck In Jail” is metrically en pointe with, “Payload, speed boat / Wanna come along? / Vice grip, guilt trip / Don’t get me wrong,” — and it also seems to be Drive Like Jehu’s mission. The listener participates … make no mistake. Their debut is, though ovreshadowed, an excellent offering of road-rashing post-hardcore in a deftly politicized and psychologized vernacular. And Jehu’s charismatic effrontery is in pathogenesis, too, as with the landlord’s vengeance in “Turn It Off” and the bullying wound up and puny in “Step On Chameleon’s” schoolbus-riding boy (“Cut my finger on a butter knife”). But ‘the cake’ is taken by the first stanza of “If It Kills You,” which begins, memorably, “Your 47th birthday cake / Is peeing acid on your face.” Yeah.