Dogstar. 30 Odd Foot Of Grunt. P. All various examples of Hollywood stars getting sick of the day job and deciding to set out on the road to rock’n’roll. Where Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe and Johnny Depp all went wrong however was in thinking that they could just be an ordinary band member.
Juliette Lewis has made no such mistakes with her little side-project. Although very much a band, and not Lewis’ vanity project, she has stamped her personality all over The Licks. There’s no merging into the background playing bass where Lewis is concerned – instead she’s too busy being every inch the ultimate fantasy rock goddess.
For make no mistake, Four On The Floor is a rock album, or if you will, rawk. Lewis certainly couldn’t be confused with Minnie Driver here – this is 10 tracks of hard, heavy guitar music with not a drippy ballad in sight. It also helps that, with the addition of Dave Grohl, that the Licks rock like the proverbial bastard.
Grohl was roped in after original drummer Jason Morris left the band, and it’s immediately clear what sort of effect he’s had. Every track here is incredibly tight, with Smash And Grab making for a particularly arresting opener. A no-nonsense ‘heads-down’ rocker, it’s distinguished by Lewis’ almost feral vocals, and a chorus that could have been written by prime-time AC/DC. It’s the type of opening track that makes you sit up and take notice as soon as you hit ‘play’.
The single Hot Kiss is equally exciting, with Lewis on particularly carnal form. The opening psychobilly-style guitar riff is fantastic, and while Lewis’ voice, while maybe not being up to that of Karen O, is still imbued with enough character and personality to make these songs her own.
The extraordinary Death Of A Whore is a good case in point – Lewis uses her acting background to really get into the song’s character of a tragic prostitute. The melody is catchy enough, but it’s Lewis’ performance that really stands out. By the time she’s screaming “fuck you, fuck you, I’ll fuck you some more….fuck you!” in a voice filled with aggression and venom, you’re utterly gripped.
Perhaps the most commercial moment is Get Up, which has a terrific Who-style introduction before bursting into guitar chords that would grace a Free or Bad Company album in the ’70s. The chorus is very radio-friendly, but there’s enough grit here to stop it becoming over-commercialised or – heaven forfend – bland. It’s a superb song, that will hopefully find the audience it deserves if it’s released as a single.
Grohl’s influence is written all over the album – especially on the Foo Fighters-soundalike Purgatory Blues – but, rather like his work with Queens Of The Stone Age, he enhances the band’s sound rather than overwhelm it. If there’s still any doubt that he’s one of the best drummers in the world, then listen to this album.
Although there may be some tracks that lose focus a bit – Bullshit King seems to meander a bit, while Inside The Cage makes for a rather underwhelming closer – this is a very impressive second album that proves that not all actors who want to be film stars should be sneered at.