by Joe Jamnitzky
I’ve been dreading doing this one. Avoiding it, even. All because I knew I wanted to do it, but couldn’t figure out how to go about it properly and give it the respect that it deserves. When life ends up imitating art, as it did with Local H’s 3rd album, Pack Up The Cats, it can be quite disheartening.
Local H will forever be thought of as a one-hit wonder to the general public for their 1996 single “Bound For The Floor”, which everybody seems to think is called “Copacetic”, thanks to it’s chorus (look it up by the proper title, and you’ll immediately remember the song).
At the time, one of the novelties of the band was that there were only two members (this was pre-White Stripes era). They also had this knack for crafting actual albums with set themes, a trait they still are able to employ (see my earlier article on their 2008 album, 12 Angry Months).
The primary force behind Local H has always been vocalist/guitarist/bassist Scott Lucas. Actually, he’s the only main member, especially now that they’re on their 3rd drummer. Lucas has this ability to craft song cycles regarding some real, but slightly depressing, issues. He’s made albums about being stuck in a small town (As Good As Dead), the time period after a failed relationship (12 Angry Months), and, in the case of Pack Up The Cats, the attempt to leave town in the hopes of making it as a musician, but ultimately not succeeding.
(Just an aside here: while that stuff is slightly depressing, at least it’s relatable to us regular people, and when you can relate to music, that, to me, is the most important aspect. How many of us have been through the post-breakup problems, or have, and maybe still feel, stuck in a small town?)
Now, as I mentioned, Lucas has this great ability of turning his albums into song cycles, and I mean that in the truest sense. Pack Up The Cats is arguably his finest achievement in this sense. Musical parts from one song will appear in another (or act as segues between songs), there are no breaks between the tracks (except after “What Can I Tell You?”, because that was considered the halfway point of the album, as if it were the end of Side A on a cassette or vinyl), and lyrics are repeated at different points through the album.
So, for the inevitable question…what happened?!
Well, remember earlier I mentioned life imitating art? Here we have an album about a band trying to make it big, trying to get that break that they’d been working so hard for, only for it to not end up working out the they’d hoped for. That’s the art.
When Local H scored a hit with “Bound For The Floor”, as well as another minor hit with “Eddie Vedder”, they entered the making of their 3rd album with the intention of going big. They got off to a great start when the album’s first single and video, “All The Kids Are Right”, reached #19 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album itself was ranked #20 on Spin’s “Top Albums of the 90s”. Then, the label that released the album, Island Records, got swallowed up by Universal, and as a result, Pack Up The Cats got lost in the shuffle, with all promotion for it pretty much becoming non-existent. That’s the life.
An album about trying to make it big as a band, only to end up being unable to do it. A band trying to make it big with said album, only to be unable to do it thanks to the record company. That’s a story in itself.
As for the album, the entire thing is a highlight. I know I say that often, but it’s true. Thanks to various parts being revisited, lyrically and musically, as well as the pacing of the album and the strength of every track (sure, you could skip some if you wanted, but they’re all excellent), this is one of those rare times where not only does it work as a cohesive body of work, but also as just a collection of great songs. This is an album that is full of great guitar riffs and memorable melodies. It manages to be both ironic and humorous, the humor mostly being of the “it’s so true it’s funny” variety. “All The Kids Are Right” was the perfect example of this, being about a band that all the kids heard was great, only to see them and discover that they pretty much suck. How many times have we had that happened? How many times did that happen to Local H? Humor and irony are tough things to balance, but Pack Up The Cats does it effectively.
It would be another three years before Local H would return, with a different drummer. Scott Lucas & co. have since become a much loved rock band, one that has kept a consistent sound and is always reliable for good, straightforward rock music. The shot at success, with an album about a band taking a shot at success, may have been thwarted by circumstances that they didn’t see coming, but in the process a piece of work was created that pretty much every struggling rock musician can relate to.
As the song tells us, “You’re all wrong and all the kids are right.”gdlr_rp