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A great cry was heard throughout the land…well, the land populated by a certain kind of rock fan, anyway. And that cry was: Thelonious Monster is back. (See Chip Midnight’s interview here for the full story.) Still led by the indefatigable Bob Forrest and still featuring guitarists Dix Denny and Chris Handsome and drummer Pete Weiss (along with new recruit Martyn LeNoble on bass), the Monster lurches to life with Oh That Monster, its first album since 2004’s California Clam Chowder – and the first to feature Handsome since 1992’s masterpiece Beautiful Mess. Though the band arose out of the fecund L.A. scene of the mid-eighties and has maintained ties with fellow travelers like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and Fishbone, the Monster has always stood apart. For one thing, the group’s music is almost defiantly gimmick-free. No virtuoso funk licks, no superstar album events, no stylistic dabbling – Thelonious rock is meat-and-potatoes rock, with rough guitar licks, singalong vocal melodies and a devotion to 4/4 time. All the better to frame Forrest’s plaintive, gravelly whine, unchanged after all these decades, and his bullshit-free songs. Forrest has never held back his emotions, eschewing cleverness for direct communication, and the band follows suit. Witness the no-fuss folk rock of the socially commenting “Buy Another Gun,” the wild-eyed free improv of the coda for “Sixteen Angels,” the raging firepower of “Disappear,” the pure cry for understanding in “Elijah.” The bristling electricity eventually gives way to the acoustic textures of “Day After Day” and “The Faraway,” without any dip in heart-on-sleeve intensity. A return to form? Sure. But that form has been so long absent that there’s no need for qualifiers. With an album this strong, it’s a return to be simply, happily celebrated, full stop.
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