There is plenty of cynical negativity threaded throughout Herzog’s catchy but combustible second record, Cartoon Violence. It’s an album filled with uneasy sentiments which make plain the harsh realities that have been brought on by the current recession; grim points that hit even harder now that nearly three years have passed since the band’s debut was released.
While the lyrics of the record are written by Herzog’s official fifth (non-playing) member, wordsmith Tony Vorell, the Cleveland quartet perfectly match the volatility of his abrasive words with the boundless, energetic spirit which consistently churns through their restless arrangements. And just like most outbursts, it’s over in a flash, as the nine new songs go by in a blur during the album’s all-too-quick 28 minutes.
The band state their case clearly in the caustic title of the raucous lead-off track ‘Fuck This Year’, an indignant viewpoint which can be shared by anyone who has had a tough go of it as of late. The boisterous guitar work of Nick Tolar and Dave McHenry backs up the song’s profanities, and the kiss-off anthem burns brightly in its brief two and a half minutes. ‘Rock And Roll Monster’ acerbically documents the pitfalls of success, both in music and in love, and how the mistakes we all make can quickly turn a good thing bad.
There is a Weezer-esque power pop appeal to ‘You Clean Up Nice’, while ‘Rich People Ballad’ has a definite Built To Spill guitar sound, and a relaxed melody which suits the band’s strengths, and keeps up the momentum generated by the strong start of the record. Things slow down just a bit with the countrified charm of the Neil Young-like ‘Dreaming Man II’, the sleepy song dragging a bit before it listlessly draws to a close.
‘Feedback’ brings a much-needed jolt, which carries over into the anti-war screed ‘Your Son Is Not A Soldier’, which has hints of Billy Bragg’s effortless ability to blend political lyrics with bouncy pop hooks without coming across as crass or overly simplistic. ‘Shakespearean Actress’ changes things up once again, and features a slowly building, dramatic arrangement that adds to the grand scope of the song.
This breakneck record draws fitfully to a close with the punkish churn of ‘Alexander The Great’, with echoes of the shout-singing of Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye during the song’s restless chorus. It would be interesting to hear Herzog release an entire record filled with these types of incendiary numbers, but that’s not to say that Cartoon Violence is lacking in any way. The band try their hand at a lot of different styles over a short amount of time, which gives the record a frantic schizophrenic feel: perfect for these unsettled, tempestuous times of ours.