500 Megatons of Boogie, 500 Megatons of Boogie
Drummer Jason Tortorice, guitarist Erik Westfall, and bassist Johnny Todd made some of Houston’s most ambitious and endearingly wacky hard rock as the Slurpees, and then as the Squishees after being threatened with legal action by 7-11. The ubiquitous ice vendor also recently began selling a drink called a Squishee, in a long-overdue act of reverse product placement, but Westfall and Todd need not worry, having put the Squishees on hiatus to make room for 500 Megatons of Boogie.
500 Megatons’ music departs radically from the complexity and ambition of the Squishees’ recent work, replacing demented prog with down-home rock-and-roll. Well, not as down-home as all that; part of the greatness of Westfall and Todd’s bands has always been Westfall’s clever and hilariously weird vocals, and 500 Megatons are no exception. A particular standout is “Asleep in the Plastic Boudoir”: “Asleep in the plastic boudoir / Dreaming of a Disney Xanadu / Living in a G-rated pleasure dome / Feasting on tofu caviar.” Another is “James Brown Song,” which features a refrain that sounds suspiciously like “something something something,” but which is obscured by Westfall’s unhinged screech. He sounds for all the world like a mental patient channeling the Godfather of Soul.
500 Megatons of Boogie often sounds something like the early Slurpees records, which combined the acid wit of the Dead Kennedys with the head-snapping punk-funk of the Minutemen, but here Westfall and Todd are reaching for something more primal and muscular. They are aided by Kent Hassinger, who has replaced Tortorice on drums. To say that Hassinger’s drumming is not as fluid, agile and expressive as Tortorice’s would be a massive understatement, but he substitutes an almost unbelievable physical strength. It is an integral part of this brutal, stomping, goofy record, which retains the peculiar charm that has marked Westfall and Todd’s music since the beginning: that of witnessing the power of rock and roll to turn three average guys into complete raving lunatics.