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Artist: Weird War

Album: Weird War

Label: Drag City

Review date: Sep. 9, 2002

When the Going Gets Weird...

If you want to get philosophical about it, Ian Svevonius and Neil Hagarty are the two polar ends of the Indie Rock nation: Svevonius is cool, literate and just a little tongue-in-cheek; Hagarty is hazy, stoned out of his gourd, and just plain weird.

For those of you just joining the game in progress, Ian Svevonius used to be in the Make-Up, who crowed Leftist slogans over a fairly deranged breed of retro R&B. Their manifestos – of which there were many – were as likely to concern hairdos or fashion as they were the radical redistribution of American wealth. Like their frontman’s first combo, the Nation of Ulysses, the Ups borrowed Fugazi’s belief in youth power, stayed close to the punk-rock ground, and kept the faith. In a lot of ways, they were the promise of post-Fugazian rock, playing songs for and about the struggle for a better tomorrow. Their genius was to make it sound like a really great party.

Neil Hagarty, on the other hand, was an expert at making a really great party sound like the worst thing that ever happened to him. His band, the inimitable Royal Trux, started what might optimistically be characterized as their career making smacked-out deconstructions of the Rolling Stones – until, of course, he and singer/life partner Jennifer Herrema decided they wanted to be the Rolling Stones. In any case, their records were the best kind of art-scum racket, clever songs concealed beneath layers of lysergic noise and fury, occasionally held together only by the off-hand lyrical grace of Hagarty’s guitar.

What all this exposition is supposed to do, of course, is demonstrate how strange it would be if these two characters decided to start a band together. Thus: the Weird War.

The band name holds a lot of promise – implying that this is a place where two almost diametrically opposed songwriter/musicians get together and duke it out – that their differences would synthesize into a grand and dramatic new whole, a great leap forward for music. But what the Weird War offers, instead, is basically a slightly more abstract Make-Up record with the dude from Royal Trux playing lead guitar on it.

This is not to dismiss the album, which is a groovy, funny delight, a much poppier effort than anything either of its two principals has ever done before. As a general rule, it follows Svevonius’s classicism rather than Hagarty’s artsy noodling: the songs have verses and choruses; they tend to end roughly the same as they started; and they usually don’t blow up in the middle. Hell, there’s even a couple of ballads here. Svevonius’s vocals are just as tarty and fun as they’ve ever been, with all the “whoo-hoos” and “ee-yaws” you’re used to. Hagarty, sounding like he’s having more fun than he’s ever had in his life, does quite well within these tighter boundaries, playing against the bouncy rhythms and garage-y chord changes found here like he was born to do it.

Hagarty shows his greatest influence over the proceedings with the gleefully daffy song titles: “Chicago Charlemagne” has an Aftermath-y kind of feel; “FN Rat” is a giddy rave-up. And any record with a song as God-like as “Ibex Club” deserves every compliment it can get.

Perhaps the nicest surprise about the Svev-Hag fusion is that it’s not much of a weird war after all. Here, two differently minded but thoroughly sympathetic rock minds sit down and have a grand good time with what they come up with. The lesson in this happy communal accident is a simple one: make weird love, not weird war.

By Sam Eccleston

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