Released: 2006, Universal Music
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
With his sojourn into filmmaking with 2003’s HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES and 2005’s THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, it was assumed that Rob Zombie was done with music. In fact, I believe he even said so at one point. So, when it was announced after headlining Ozzfest’s second stage last summer that he was working on his first solo album since 2001’s THE SINISTER URGE, I was as surprised as anyone. That album was vastly inferior to 1998’s HELLBILLY DELUXE and, not only that, would the five year gap—an eternity in music terms—have watered down Zombie’s music and inspiration? Well, EDUCATED HORSES is a real departure from the “classic” Zombie sound and the industrial elements that found him at a musical apex with White Zombie in the 90s are almost completely gone. Calling Zombie “gimmicky” wouldn’t be far off given his use of facial prosthetics and horror film samples that populated his music, but that has only shreds remaining here, paving the way for a cleaner, more organic sound complete with a full band. Joining Zombie and long-time bassist Rob “Blasko” Nicholson are John5 (ex-DLR Band & Marilyn Manson) and ex-Alice Cooper drummer, Tommy Clufetos and the basic guitar/bass/drum/vocal approach really suits the music. Musically, things waver between a glam rock sound reminiscent of 70s heroes like Alice Cooper and Gary Glitter, to a dirty, sludgy Danzig chorus. John5 even brings in such inventive instruments as a sitar and dusty slide guitar. Perhaps, Zombie is going for a more “mature” sound on EDUCATED HORSES and, having just turned forty, maybe the whole “Zombie” persona is getting old (even the plain, black & white cover art is a real departure from the garish, comic book-like entries from his past albums) but the time away from the music scene has certainly done him some good because this is easily the most fully realized, yet basic album he has ever released.
“American Witch” fits right into the Zombie catalogue with its dark, sinister lyrics and barely-audible shrieking woman, but as he ages, Zombie’s voice is beginning to sound more and more like Alice Cooper’s. Besides Zombie’s trademark cries of “yeahhhh, yeahhhh,” John5’s guitar here is one of the few throwbacks to the sound of “More Human Than Human,” with a buzzing distortion that older fans will love. First single, “Foxy Foxy,” and “The Scorpion Sleeps” are straight-up area rock that feature a glam rock bounce and hand claps but the former is a fraught with the same bubblegum pop clichés that plagued THE SINISTER URGE’s “Never Gonna Stop (Red Red Kroovy).” The lyrically-cryptic and Eastern-influenced “17 Year Locust” boasts a sitar solo (yes, a sitar solo) and its slow, grinding groove is pure psychedlia. “Let It All Bleed Out” and “Ride” are not only the heaviest tracks on EDUCATED HORSES but the closest in sound to the ASTRO-CREEP 2000 era. John5’s shredding solo and meaty riffs are ones for the books. He seems to be a bit of a journeyman but John5 leaves Zombie’s former axeman, Riggs, in the dust, so hopefully this will be the beginning of a long-lasting musical partnership between the two. The two instrumental pieces, “Sawdust In The Blood” and “100 Ways,” further instill this point with the rest of the band serving as a backdrop to John5’s six-string virtuosity. “Death of It All” is almost hypnotic with a full minute of John5’s classical guitar to get things started before the bobbing chorus and string samples create a soundscape never heard before on a Zombie recording. The fact that John5 has a hand in co-writing this, and eight of the eleven songs on EDUCATED HORSES, is no coincidence, either. Like its celluloid namesake, “The Devil’s Rejects” is a dusty, Western-influenced piece filled with slide-guitar and a muted vocal from Zombie. “The Lords of Salem” is the polar opposite, going straight for the throat with industrial, Marilyn Manson-like verses and a deep, bellowing, Danzig-like chorus.
There are no “Superbeasts,” “Living Dead Girls” or “Dragulas” here and EDUCATED HORSES definitely takes a few spins to really sink in. This is a “new” Rob Zombie and he has packed the gimmicks and schlock away in favor of a more sonically-diverse and musically-adept sound, one that may be difficult for fans of his horror-centric subject matter to accept. At the same time, those people who always found Rob Zombie’s music to be more in tune with comic-book silliness and tongue-in-cheek lyrics will be surprised with what they find on EDUCATED HORSES. While hooking up with a skilled and astute band has certainly helped shake things up in the Zombie camp, when the dust settles, EDUCATED HORSES still sounds like a Rob Zombie album. If EDUCATED HORSES is one last kick at the cat for Zombie as a musician, then it will leave a good legacy and show that he has more to offer than a campy send-up of B-grade horror flicks but if this material is any indication of where he is headed, there is still plenty of mileage left in his musical career.
KILLER KUTS: “American Witch,” “17 Year Locust,” “The Scorpion Sleeps,” “Let It All Bleed Out,” “Death of It All,” “Ride”