People like their rock ‘n’ roll serious—Springsteen, U2, Coldplay. The more humorless, the better. I assume this has something to do with the degree to which people find identity in rock ‘n’ roll. Bands with a sense of humor—particularly hard rock bands—make things complicated: “Are they making fun of rock? Of me?” It’s easier to ignore that music than to think it through. Critics, on the other hand, love bands with a sense of humor because it adds some dimension and acknowledges the social context of music while still delivering the fastball thrills of a great guitar riff. When Handsome Dick Manitoba sang, “We knocked ’em dead in Dallas / They didn’t know we were Jews” in the Dictators’ “Two-Tub Man”, the line played with Northeast/Southwest/Jew/Baptist tensions and said nothing to people who go to rock to escape all thoughts along those lines. “Highway to Hell,” like a shot of Jagermeister, is far simpler.
The sad downside of this is that a lot of great hard rock has been overlooked because the singer was a smartass, and I fear some of that has happened with New Orleans’ Supagroup. “How can they be a supagroup? I’ve never heard of any of these guys?” If you identify with rock ‘n’ roll to feel like a winner, what do you do with a song such as “Lonely at the Bottom” (“Lonely at the bottom / Lonely at the top / Lonely in the middle / If you want to rock”)? “Rock and Roll Tried to Ruin My Life? I don’t even know what that means.”
Hail! Hail! delivers the rock ‘n’ roll fastball with fewer wisecracks, less irony, and there are 98 percent fewer tongues-in-cheek. The title track is exactly the celebration of rock ‘n’ roll that “Hail! Hail!” implies. “Sexy Summertime” is about the sexy summertime with a playful riff that still motors along at a deliberate pace. You might hear the slightest of smirks in “Down He Goes,” a song about a fighter who “keeps getting up,” and even though that sounds solidly solid, in each chorus he gets knocked down again. Dark humor? Maybe.
Still, more straightforward lyrics let heavy riffs on “Back in the Game” and “Lion in the Age of the Cage” flex their muscles without encumbrance, and “Where’d You Put the Whiskey?” and “Crazy Too” add a little hip-shake to the mix. Supagroup never strays too far from its ‘70s hard rock/8-track roots, but for the first time, they include an acoustic guitar instrumental (“Along the Yangtze”) by Benji Lee, and finish on another acoustic note with “And the Sun Will Still Shine,” an optimistic duet between Chris and Benji Lee.
The band hasn’t gone completely straight-faced; they turned the making of Hail! Hail! into an online comedy series, Amped! But for now, hard rock fans who want the fastball get the fastball. None of that funny stuff.