In 1998, Rob Zombie released the “Dragula” video and changed my life forever. I was 13 and it was my first or second summer where I was watching my younger brother in the morning before going to see my grandfather and I watched A LOT of MTV. There was a ton of boy band and rap videos, and some nu metal. And there was Rob Zombie.
I was (and am) a huge fan of The Munsters, so I knew that “Dragula” was the name of Herman’s car when he was a drag racer; I was already sold by the title credits of the video. Then there was the video, a veritable phantasmagoria. Dancing robots, flames, psychedelic colors, a hot chick (turns out it’s his wife) go-go dancing, fire, weird black-and-white movie clips, Zombie’s greasy band and finally Rob Zombie himself.
The waist-length dreads, huge beard, the make-up, crazy garb, tats and the fact he was driving the Munster Koach made him look like the coolest and a later “MTV News” feature showed him live, dominating a stage with a crushing band, pyro, massive ‘666’ lights and more robots and go-go dancers in cages. My mind was blown. He was just the fucking coolest. In an interview I read a while back, Zombie talked about seeing the artwork for Alice Cooper’s Alice Cooper Show as a kid, with Alice and all his props and spectacle at the forefront and being hooked. I imagine he felt the same way about the Coop that I did about him.
I think its that visual component that made me such a fan of Zombie and his music. On his best songs, you can visualize them. Part of it is the Zombie character, part of it is the lurid nature of the songs and their titles and the other part is the fact that until the last decade or so, his music videos were fucking wild.
None of my friends dug him. The B-movie schlock pastiche and industrial grind of his solo and White Zombie works just weren’t their thing.
But I’ve stuck with him, accumulating all of his White Zombie and solo albums, the most recent of which, The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Orgy Celebration Dispenser, came out last week.
It’s good, I may go so far as to say pretty good. As a whole, it flows well and it’s pretty solid. In terms of consistency, its one of his easier to listen to straight through. There’s nothing skippable or weaker tunes dragging down the rest of the album. And it gets to the point, ripping through 12 songs (3 of which are instrumentals) in about 30 minutes. It’s a ripping little album, full of crunchy riffs and Zombie’s trademark growl. It’s biggest problem is that, while the songs are even in quality, there’s no one memorable track that sticks out.
Every Zombie album has at least one memorably catchy tune, with an easy to sing along chorus. If I was to put together an a compilation of Zombie’s 20 best tracks, nothing from Electric Warlock Acid Witch would make the cut. Conversely, if I was putting together his 20 worst songs, nothing from this would make it either.
I find this interesting. How do you properly evaluate an album that doesn’t have a lot of lows, but no real highs either? Where should it rank within an artist’s oeuvre? For me, thinking about an album in terms of a larger context and looking at it within an entire body of work is endlessly fascinating to me, especially if it’s a composition that doesn’t just floor you.
Electric Warlock Acid Witch and Rob Zombie’s solo career provide an opportunity to do so. He’s released 6 albums under his own name, not counting shitty remix albums and 2 live joints. That’s an easy-to-quantify and rank body of work. I stuck with solo albums and didn’t include his 2 biggest White Zombie albums, since that would skew everything. The WZ works far outpace pretty much his entire solo career and would instantly put the new album in the bottom of the pile. With that being said, let’s get down to it, going in order from best to worst:
- Hellbilly Deluxe (1998) – this one’s a no-brainer. It’s probably his only essential album, picking up right where White Zombie left off when he disbanded the group. It’s a tight 13 songs, half of which were singles at one point or another. Most of his biggest tracks are on this, from “Dragula” to “Living Dead Girl,” “Superbeast” and “Meet the Creeper.” He could play, and probably has played, nearly every song live. If you didn’t like this album, you probably wouldn’t like anything else he’s made since. It’s the album where his music, art direction and style presentation finally came together as a fully realized audiovisual spectacle. If we go with a star rating, let’s give it a 4.5 out of 5.
- Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (2010) – Sequel in name, but not stylistically. There’s less of the tight, drum looped industrial sound and has more of a live, full band feel. It makes sense, since it was the first time he actively worked on an album with his entire touring solo band. It shows, as the songs have more of an organic feel, mixing in some psychobilly, punk and grunge and freshening his sound by getting rid of some of the more processed sounds. Anyone looking for this album should find the original version, with an album cover featuring a busted up Zombie and not the deluxe edition, with a cooler cover and three new songs. One of them, “Michael,” about Michael Myers of Halloween, is hot garbage and the others are good, but kill the album’s original pacing. It’s a 4, maybe 4.25 out of 5.
- Sinister Urge (2001) – A lot like Hellbilly Deluxe, but lesser, down even to the album’s art direction and the way the tracks are presented with interludes and such. The electronic crunch of that album is gone; in its place was a more band-driven sound, one that was less focused than it would eventually become on his more recent releases. Still, singles like “Feel So Numb” and “Never Gonna Stop” were great tracks, “Demon Speeding” is cool to hear live and nothing on it is worse than decent. I don’t listen to this one often and was inclined to rank it lower, but the highs on this one are higher than on any of the following ones on this list. 3.75 out of 5.
- Electric Warlock Acid Witch (2016) – I’ve already explained how I feel about this album. It’s good, if I did star ratings, it’d be 3.25 out of 5. I felt meh about the singles when they came out, but within the context of the album, songs like, “Well, Everybody’s Fucking in a UFO” sound better. It sounds a lot like later-era White Zombie, just without anything as memorable as “More Human Than Human” or “SuperCharger Heaven.”
- Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor (2013) – I almost ranked this one ahead of Electric Warlock, but the last 3 or 4 tracks are shit, 3 songs are pretty good, and the rest is kind of just there. “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy,” the album opener, is good for a lesser rewrite of ” Jesus Frankenstein” from the album that immediately preceded this. “Dead City Radio and the New Gods of Supertown” was the lead single and as a standalone song is one of his better solo tunes, a pounding garage rock anthem. As far as album’s go, it’s just OK. 2.75 out of 5.
- Educated Horses (2006) – This is definitely the least confident and most stylistically muddled album in his career. It’s also the least cool, since he ditched the dreads and makeup for denim and dyed blonde hair and the art design is less engaging than past ones. It also features 3 or 4 really shitty songs. But “American Witch” is a ripper, “Foxy, Foxy” is a funky little grinder and “Lords of Salem” was pretty dope until he took the title and made one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. And, in his defense, it was his first album with guitarist John 5, who is now his principal co-writer of songs. I don’t think you get to his subsequent, tighter albums without the feeling out phase this album sounds like. In retrospect it sounds like a transition album from the electronic grind of his prior work to his current pummeling hard rock assault. 2. 25 out of 5.
So yeah, Electric Warlock Acid Witch Celebration Dispsenser. Fun, trashy rock album. It’s worth a spin. Maybe that should have been the whole review.