“Junkie Nurse”, the first track on the live album released alongside Royal Trux reunion tour, lets you know exactly what they are about. It is a slurred, sleazy, staggering account of stealing prescription drugs. Neil Hagerty’s guitar and Jennifer Herrema’s vocals are dragged in off the streets after a night passed out under a flyover. The track has apparently been recorded on somebody’s phone. It is a complete mess, and glorious with it. This is what Royal Trux have to offer.
Despite their unconcealed heroin habits and disdain for the sensibilities of music corporations, Royal Trux achieved major label status in the 1990s, holding out among the post-grunge wave of signings until Virgin gave them the terms they wanted. They responded with two albums, the last of which, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ featured a famously grim toilet bowl as a cover. The band then returned to Drag City and released a sequence of four turn-of-the-century albums which, in failing to fit the indie, grunge or rock templates on offer, sounded like nothing else. Then they split, leaving a trail of ludicrous drug stories and the respect of their peers, who saw through the junkie couple headlines, to the originality of their songs. Hagerty brought his spiky, feedback-laden guitar to The Howling Hex, a slightly more structured cousin to Royal Trux.
Given their disdain for musical convention, a reunion to hit the nostalgia market has to be more than it seems. Fifteen years after splitting, Hagerty and Herrema have again been lurching around Europe and the States, making a series of brief appearances on stage during which they argue, drink and sometimes play songs. Their gigs have ended abruptly when one or other can no longer stand up. Platinum Tips and Ice Cream faithfully records this atmosphere of uncontrolled chaos, punctuated with moments of exceptional coherence.
Platinum Tips and Ice Cream strips apart tracks from the full range of their career, rendering them looser, dirtier, nastier and messier than their originals, quite an achievement. If you thought 'Waterpark' from Veterans of Disorder was too fresh-faced and clean on the original, Royal Trux have fixed that for you. If you were hankering after 'Esso Dame' from their first, self-titled album all the way back in 1988, it’s here, sounding as though Sonic Youth could really learn a thing or two. 'The Banana Question' from Accelerator is ridiculous and irresistible, a retailing rollercoaster of a song. Royal Trux are experts in doing precisely what they please, and this album is the ultimate expression of their truly uncontrollable energy. They have dedicated themselves completely to subverting both the indie nostalgia industry and their own back catalogue, and the results are part performance art, part musical genius. The album is essential for understanding what Herrema and Hagerty are trying to achieve, and worth it for the exceptionally trippy, closing version of 'Ice Cream' alone.
Platinum Tips and Ice Cream is Amazon and iTunes.