February 07, 2008

Album Review: Louis XIV - Slick Dogs and Ponies

Must rock musicians take themselves so seriously? In the case of the San Diego band, Louis XIV, it appears that the answer, regrettably, is yes.

On their debut effort, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, they shot straight from the waist, all roguish and cocksure like some high school football squad crashing a cheerleader camp. Lubricious songs like “Paper Doll” and “Pledge of Allegiance” crammed gobs of flirtation and foreplay into potent blasts of raw guitar and drums. The album smacked of chauvinism, female objectification, and salaciousness, which – political correctness be damned – is exactly what made that music so exciting.

Maybe the members of Louis XIV feared such a ribald brand of rock and roll would paint them into a corner, relegating them to nothing more than kitsch. Perhaps they felt the creative urge to explore the depths of their talent. Whatever the reason, Louis XIV disappointingly assume a more restrained and often-underwhelming approach on their sophomore release, Slick Dogs and Ponies.

Any decent band should attempt to improve and expand upon its previous work lest the new music sounds stale or contrived, but Louis XIV have forsaken too much of what distinguished them in the first place. Gone are the incendiary musical punches and the punk bravado, supplanted – on every track – by a string section. Regardless of how brash or sexually suggestive the lyrics read on paper (unless you’re Barry White), having a violin accompaniment invariably muffles the message. Such a sonic departure, at least for this band, illustrates indulgence of style over substance. Incidentally, if purchased on iTunes, the album includes a string-laden cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” which doesn’t do anything to diminish this ostentatious impression.

Had this album not been overproduced, many of its songs would have fared quite well. In any event, only a few stand out in their present form (and some by narrow margins). The best of the bunch is “Stalker,” which repeats the creepy line, “I can stare at you all night and you won’t even notice,” and actually benefits from its string progression, adding suspense like that of a horror film. As well, “Free Won’t Be What It Used To Be” and “Guilt By Association” come closest to summoning the band’s capable swagger and verve, but grating orchestration and effects ultimately saturate the songs, likening them more to shrill melodramas rather than to the commanding songs that could have resulted.

Louis XIV demonstrated an ambitious and enthralling dose of rock and roll with their first album, but their aspirations prove too convoluted on Slick Dogs And Ponies. Artists should evolve to create the best work possible, but they should also possess the wherewithal to know when to use some restraint. In the end, this album just makes Louis XIV seem too pretentious for their own good.