While no album that Rob Zombie has released since going solo has really tanked commercially, the hard truth is that it has been a solid ten years since the singer released a good album of new music. That might sound damning, but it’s true; lots of Rob Zombie’s albums have come out and proven to be perfectly listenable for a little while, but they’ve proven to have less and less staying power as time has worn on. The speed at which Zombie’s new releases have lost their shine has increased with each successive album, to the point that Hellbilly Deluxe II arrived almost stillborn in 2010 and its reissue went basically ignored when it came out about twenty months after the original. This kind of pattern would be worrisome for any artist and any label, but it’s really saying something when a monster-sized artist like Rob Zombie is dropped from his new label after just one album.
If the trend which was set into motion ten years ago continued, it didn’t look like there would be much time left for Rob Zombie. He needed a miracle and, astoundingly, the singer proves he had one in him with Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor; Rob Zombie’s first album back on a Universal-distributed label after his one-album run to Roadrunner, his first to see guitarist John 5 and drummer Ginger Fish both in the ranks and playing together for the first time since the pair played with Marilyn Manson, and the first in years to see the singer excited, a little hungry and ready to prove he’s still got a swagger in his undead form.
If listeners were uncertain of what to expect from Rob Zombie now, seven years after his music began to struggle and movies clearly began to take up more of his time,the singer spells out what they’re going to get pretty clearly from the moment “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” explodes to open Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, his fifth album. There, all of the blocks which made Zombie’s music so much fun to listen to in the late Nineties are lined up, polished and in order; the troglodytic beats and tightly wound guitar and bass compel adrenaline levels to rise while Rob Zombie’s monolithic, rasping vocal can command anyone to fall in line as the whole thing captures imaginations. Like his early solo records too, the lyrics are basically meaningless (readers are invited to find meaning in lines like “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy/ Turn it on, turn it on” – which make up the complete lyric sheet for this song’s chorus) but that doesn’t matter because the presentation of them is so urgent and imminently infectious that it feels like a call to arms. Listeners with have to actively stop themselves from stomping along.
The charge led by “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” is solid and exciting, but Zombie immediately starts putting flesh on the song’s form and including other excellent bits of wonderful for an added “Wow” factor. The wows will immediately go up when listeners realize that Zombie has boosted part of The Doors’ “Texas Radio and The Big Beat” for “Dead City Radio and the Gods of Supertown” and mixed it into an absolutely phenomenal sound collage which not only holds up as a good rock song, it could play in clubs pretty easily too.The “Wow” pitch and volume will only increase when “Ging Gang Gong De Do Gong De Loga Raga” borrows the tiniest accent from a vintage Korn hit and adds it to a positively torrential crypt-rock groove and “White Trash Freaks” crosses the zombies with a bit of Kid Rock caprice for thrills. As was the case with “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy,” looking for remarkable lyric sheets is pointless but the songcraft is second to none; as the singer has done before (and struck gold), he straps some great and attractive images (from horror movies, carnivals, acid trips and strip clubs) to some great, heavy beats and guitar licks and amps up the volume to make it larger than life before pressing the whole mess into pop song forms. The process is closer to alchemy than it is to rocket science, but it works brilliantly here and, when listeners realize that, they’ll also realize that Rob Zombie hasn’t nailed it so perfectly in over a decade.
But will Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor end up being the elixir that Rob Zombie needs to refresh his career an get his fans excited again? There’s no question that, in these salad days for the music industry, nothing is a given and those who miss the mark with listeners regularly get left behind without a second look from labels – so all bets are off. However, there’s no question that this record is just what the fans still left in Rob Zombie’s camp needed; with the right chance, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor could be bigger than Jesus, The Crypt Keeper and Jason Voorhees all at once.
Bill Adams is the editor in chief of groundcontrolmag.com