French Letter

Michael Kennedy - the tough-looking, soft-talking Rooster Head singer - has lost it, gone completely bonkers, out of his mind, deranged. The incident was captured on an audio tape recently obtained by New Times:

Kennedy: "They mock me. I know they mock me."
Unidentified voice: "No one's mocking you, Mr. Kennedy."
Kennedy: "I have risen from the ashes. I am
Rimbaud!"

At this point on the tape, the others in the room seem to be trying to calm Kennedy. But his voice grows louder, till he's screaming violently: "I am a poet...a poet...I've sprung from the ashes. You don't believe me, watch my feet." Several voices are heard saying, "Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy," but his outburst rages on with maniacal screams of "I AM A POET...AIEEEIGH...A POET I TELL YOU...." Someone can be heard ordering "ten milligrams of Haldol, stat."

The horrifying confrontation eventually gives way to a bouncy concertina-and-organ melody over which Kennedy gently sings. It's not a song, just a snippet with hook, and as the untitled minipiece fades, the orchestral held notes of "Glory Hole" float out of the speakers.

If you haven't realized it yet, you are now at the end of An American Cock in Paris, the soon-to-be-released follow-up to Rooster Head's mind-boggling debut album A Legendary Cock (currently in its second pressing). The band's sophomore effort confirms that Rooster Head is the best band in the world that's never played a live gig.

In this strange life, Head music is strangest of all, a startlingly mixed-up mix of penetrating insight spattered with the blood and guts of the players' souls, beneath which roils wickedly twisted humor.

"As far as the music goes, we're all dead serious," member Bob Wlos says. "The way we approach it, the way we did this album, except for the song `Sally,' is that Mike came in, strummed something on an acoustic, and me or Pete [Moss] took it from there. I'd say 99 percent of everything was done in one or two takes, so there are screw-ups in there. We were going for the feel, rather than perfection. If we liked the way it felt, even if it had a screwed-up guitar or the vocals weren't perfect, it got across what we wanted. We mixed the whole first album in six hours. This one took seven or eight hours. We went overboard on this one."

Wlos says he laughed after he first heard the words to "Glory Hole," the expansive single denounced by some as blasphemy. While Rooster Head could never be locked into any one specific "sound" - particularly considering the new material - "Glory Hole" stands as a dramatic departure. Inspired by the mindless moping and self-worship of Depeche Mode and other poseur, tech-dreck bands, the song's complex lyrical imagery is framed by sweeping keyboards; a monotonous drum thump beats like a heart throughout, various synth rhythms compete for space, a guitar solo careers wildly through the bridge. One would be pressed to even recognize it as Rooster Head.

Then again, nobody else would think to put such intriguing, bedeviling poetry to a dance instrumentation. In fact nobody else writes lyrics like this, period: "If you leave me, there'll be trouble/Kiss me goodbye but never leave/Kiss me deep/I'll give you what you need/Don't be fearful when I plant my seed."

"Glory Hole" is an anomaly, which is quite an accomplishment considering the diversity of Head's work. As with A Legendary Cock, the new album includes country music, neopsychedelia, retro pop-rock, and other stuff that has no name. The songs are so strong, the arrangements so inventive, the overall package so infectious and accessible that the best way to describe An American Cock in Paris is to call it Rooster Head music, and leave the crowing to rock crits.

Wlos owns and operates the highly regarded L-7 studio in Deerfield Beach, and the Roosters use his sonic toys and rock-oriented space as their personal musical playground. The boys have expanded beyond their highly effective guitar-bass-drums-pedal-steel format on the new album, adding bongos, sax, effects.

Flashbacks are also involved. "Black Girls and Saxes" - with profound piano lines (by guest Jaco Jacovino) and multicharacter storytelling - is similar to something from David Bowie's early albums. "I had gone out and bought the new reissues of [The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars] and Space Oddity," Kennedy explains. "So it was kind of an influence. For `Black Girls' anyway."

There is no saxophone on "Black Girls and Saxes," but in one lyric, Kennedy mentions "glory hole." On another cut, "Dancing with the Ghost (Marvin)," you find "a field of seven aces." On the other side is a track titled "Field of Seven Aces."

And it's not just a matter of lyrical ghosting - which effectively ties these disparate songs together the way chapters do a novel - that brings the delight of cognition and recognition. Just figuring out how some of the sounds on the album were created is the sort of rewarding challenge that makes a piece of recorded music worth ten dollars, that makes it priceless. For example, the perfectly placed fretboard scrapes in the entry "Forever Lost in Amsterdam" - a floating trip that's much less mood-specific than "Heroin" from the first album -blend with the backward pedal-steel progressions and rainbow keyboard coloring to create a Doorsy noir that makes the sophisticated sociological subject matter palatable. The Doors? "Yeah," Kennedy says. "I tried to play the organ parts the way Ray Manzarek would have."

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