Grind and Scream, Laugh and Cry: New highs from Low Cut Connie

dirty pictures part 2

Low Cut Connie’s Dirty Pictures (Part 2) opens with an anti-drug song, though not necessarily in the way you might think. In “All These Kids are Way Too High”—a howling boogie in the Mott the Hoople vein, first chugging and then barreling atop pounded pianos and buzz saw guitars—singer Adam Weiner imagines himself a song and dance man, peddling party tunes to a local frat. He’s hopeful for an evening’s wild abandon—it’s been a “rough fuckin’ week in America,” he understates, and a little good-natured carousing might do us all some good. Problem is, the frat kids are all too plastered for any kind of embodied, in-the-moment experience. “They wanna grind and scream, they wanna laugh and cry/ But they’re standin’ around because they’re too damn high,” snarls Weiner, in a song that subverts the music of teenage rebellion to indict youthful ambivalence, all the while celebrating the ragged, contagious joy of unostentatious rock and roll. That’s the album’s calling card and its thesis statement: Minute for minute and song after song, Dirty Pictures (Part 2) serves up one damn high after another. It is mind-altering in its euphoria, intoxicating in its kinetic energy. It invites the listener to shake off anything holding them back from ecstasy and release.

Total naturals at no-frills rock and roll firepower, Low Cut Connie is a group of working-class road dogs from Philly—a bar band by any other name, or at least they would be if they weren’t so stacked with swing and swagger, heart and humor. You’d need a dream team of era-spanning hall-of-famers to approximate the gutbucket flair of Weiner and his crew, who filter the primitive fury of early Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis through the arena-swelling bravado of the E-Street Band, the cheerful unpretentiousness of Nick Lowe and Rockpile, and the lo-fi rush of The Replacements. Weiner shimmies and sashays atop big fists of piano chords with all the vulgar grace of David Johansen, all while the band’s dual guitarists capture the nervy buzz of Johnny Thunders. And then there’s the rhythm section, relentless with their galloping back-beats: A twitchy kickdrum gives “Oh Suzanne” its addictive pulse, while a flurry of crash cymbals adds fizzle and panache to the live-wire “Please Do Not Come Home.”

Not one but two of these songs are named for girls—“Beverly” and “Oh Suzanne,” both sounding like titles plucked from the Chuck Berry catalog—and the album’s lone protest tune wears its topicality in its title (“Desegregation”; the Connies are for it). These are gestures at a certain old-time rock orthodoxy that prefers things loud, fast, and out of control—a missive Weiner and his team live up to in a howling cover of Alex Chilton’s “Hey! Little Child!” Theirs is a rock and roll that’s made for the dance floor, and they bring plenty of low-end thump to their boogie-woogies, but there’s alluring physicality even to songs like “One More Time,” back-country doggerel that’s seductively simple and swaying. For a band that’s so often described with words like greasy and sweaty, there’s real sophistication to the way they sculpt their tunes and treat all of rock’s eras as equal, pulling inspiration from disparate sources and putting them together in a way that feels natural. “Every Time You Turn Around,” the closest thing they’ve got to a piano ballad, is roadhouse R&B festooned with Queen-ly harmonies. “Oh Suzanne” exudes slapdash energy, but underneath it there’s a canny construction, one that builds from clipped verses to a roaring chorus in no time flat. And in “Please Do Not Come Home” Weiner shows that he can write pure power pop with bracing earnestness.

Every song on the album offers a good time, but these are good times born of weariness and desperation. Weiner’s characters are guys who’ve taken a few licks, dudes increasingly aware that they’re also-rans or has-beens—like the narrator of “Hollywood,” the album’s only song to abandon rock and roll altogether in favor of straight singer-songwriter fare. “Oh Hollywood, don’t break my balls/ I’m not a real bad guy after all,” Weiner croons, his confession sounding scruffy and vulnerable; it’s an anthem for anyone who harbors big dreams, but also knows how easy it is to get chewed up and spit out. Maybe the narrator is the same guy from “All These Kids are Way Too High,” a true believer who sings his ass of every night whether it gets the kids dancing or not; he may never be a star, no matter how many climactic highs he has to offer. And “Master Tapes,” opens with a cavalcade of vulgarity, but it’s profanity without bravado—the quick-fire cursing of a guy who’s talking tough even as he feels scared and broken inside, trapped in his own memories and regrets. Weiner’s spare, economical writing finds lovability in these sad-sack ruminations. Even when writing from abysmal lows, he and the Connies produce glorious highs, open to anyone who’s willing to sweat and grind and dance along with them.

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