Making movies seems to be a little more of a priority these days for Rob Zombie, with Hellbilly Deluxe 2 (the actual full title is the long-winded Hellbilly Deluxe 2: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool) being only his third studio album since 2001. In the meantime, he's written, directed, and produced five horror movies, including remakes of Halloween and its sequel, with another remake waiting in the wings (this time it's The Blob). Deluxe 2 was actually completed in late 2008, but post-production work on Halloween II pushed back the release date, with further delays holding things up until its release earlier this month. Zombie says that his fourth solo album may be the last physical CD release he puts out, dismissing the format as "dead".
Which is a nice segue (if I do say so myself) into one of Zombie's favourite topics. Going back to his time fronting previous band White Zombie, the subject of death has been the dominant theme in his lyrics and visual presentation, also supplemented by affinities for the undead, the supernatural, sci-fi, monsters, and other assorted creepy crawlies, usually presented with a cartoon-like, playful humour. 2006's Educated Horses maintained his lyrical focus on those topics, but he toned down the horror visual imagery for the first time, shelving his Halloween makeup and appearing as simply his normal self for promotional performances and the album cover. The release was his weakest since the first White Zombie album, suffering from more bad songs than good.
Deluxe 2 is, as they say, a return to form, with the album cover advertising the fact that he's back to the horror schtick and the much better collection of songs serving as a reminder that he still has some gas left in his tank, musically. I think you either love or hate Zombie's musical style - he's not really one of those artists who elicits an in-between reaction. His vocal style is a unique mix of screams, talking, yelling, and a some very unrefined singing. It's not pretty, but it works for him. One look at some of the song titles confirms that his fascination with the weird and macabre remains intact: "Jesus Frankenstein", "Mars Needs Women", "Virgin Witch", and not one, but two odes to the lycanthropic with "Werewolf, Baby" and "Werewolf Women Of The SS". His continued habit of using snippets of dialogue from cheesy old horror and science fiction movies has worn pretty thin at this point in his career, though.
The music is very much in the vein of Zombie's previous work, which is a whole lot of loud guitars and drums, and little subtlety. Guitarist John 5 may look absolutely ridiculous (and tailor made for Zombie's band), but his guitar work is always inventive and memorable, whether it's here or in his previous stints working with Rob Halford, Marilyn Manson, and David Lee Roth. On Deluxe 2, his unconventional style and impressive technical chops help to improve songs like "Werewolf, Baby", "Sick Bubblegum", "Cease To Exist", and "Burn" (love the brief homage to Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" in the latter, too).
"Mars Needs Women" is probably the strongest song on the album and it also has one of the most ridiculous (in a good way) choruses I've heard in some time ("Mars needs women/Angry red women", which is then brilliantly repeated three more times). I would have nominated "The Man Who Laughs" for my favourite track, were it not for the completely out-of-left-field four minute drum solo sandwiched in the middle, which sounds like something straight off of KISS' Alive! album, complete with flange effects thrown in. Who the hell puts a four minute drum solo on a studio album anyway? Rob Zombie, that's who.
Highlights: "The Man Who Laughs", "Jesus Frankenstein", "Mars Needs Women", "Sick Bubblegum"
Lowlights: "What?", "Cease To Exist", "Werewolf Women Of The SS"