Every time I listen to this album I find something new. It's like one of those pictures that you can search at for hours and still find some new part of the story the next time you look at it. Hamell's songs are stories, sometimes they make (occasionally quite intricate) comments on people he's known and loved or hated, sometimes they just tell the story without any comment. And what stories--drugs, crime, murder, addiction, tragedy, violence, sex--and so damn funny! How does he manage to make such horrible, sad things so funny without disrespect? I think it's because he's a voice for the people involved, he's letting them speak and you can see how human it all is, and that everything about being human is hilarious and sad at the same time. Age-old cliches, but done in a way nobody else does it. Hamell's got a raw aggressive musical power, that admittedly comes across better live (his live shows are like riding an all terrain vehicle way too fast in the woods: you know you're potentially in trouble and you're careening wildly this way and that, but it's a hell of a ride!). But in recorded form you get to hear what he's talking about better, learn the stories of the people and find out how he feels about them. When he spits his contempt for them you can feel the humiliating venom like your own shame, and you really, really want him to believe you're not so bad. And when he appreciates someone, you know they really must be worth it.
Choochtown tells stories about Nancy the pathetic maneater, Bobby the psycho drughead (with some kind of heart-of-gold sense of compassion as long as he's not coming down), Chooch the guy who really wants to be a mafia big-hitter or something, and a cast of many others weak, strong, sickening and inspiring. And my favorite, a sweet little love song that sings, "I'm gonna watch you sleep a while..." wondering what she dreams about and thinking about all the things that would make their life easier (including a disturbing reference to "find(ing) your dad and chop(ping) him with a hatchet... cool, cool, cool.") As brutal as that sounds, it makes the song even more endearing.
Anyone who cares about stories in music should own this album. Only by being chafingly honest is it possible to achieve the kind of communication in a song that Hamell does. He's also a rock & roll shot in the arm for those of us who are tired of hardcore blandity. He's way harder than Slipknot or any of that ilk, he just doesn't have to prove it by having a huge sound system and an idiotic mask.
9Laurie Parker's Score