Local H's second album, 1996's As Good as Dead, was a brave and powerful (though ultimately very depressing) concept piece about a guy utterly defeated by his inability to get out of the nowhere town where he grew up. In one sense, Local H's follow-up, 1998's Pack Up the Cats, can be seen as a companion piece, a song cycle that follows a small town rock dude as he decides to sell out and shoot for the big time -- and fails miserably, ending up farther in the hole than he started. Both ironically and appropriately, Pack Up the Cats is a good bit glossier and more engaging than As Good as Dead, not to mention a lot funnier; Roy Thomas Baker's production files down a few of the band's jagged edges and brings out the hooks in Scott Lucas' melodies while maintaining the grit of Lucas' guitar and the hard punch of Joe Daniels' drums. But just as part of what made As Good as Dead so harrowing was the fact that Lucas obviously saw a bit of himself in his principal character, Pack Up the Cats was Local H's make-or-break third album, and while it's a clear bid for a bigger place in the spotlight, at the same time Lucas and Daniels obviously understood and couldn't help commenting on the odds against them: The album's catchiest track, "All the Kids Are Right," is a superbly anthemic fist-pumping rocker about a band playing the worst show of its life. (Significantly, "All the Kids Are Right" was starting to climb the charts when Polygram's merger with Universal effectively killed the album -- a real-world disaster even Lucas couldn't predict.) While Pack Up the Cats' ironies aren't always subtle, they also bear the ring of truth, and the duo's tough but hooky punch carries the album along through tales of busted romances, bad record deals, and annoying roadies. Lots of musicians have written songs about the ups and downs of their lives in the music biz, but few have done so with as much self-searching honesty and humor -- mostly of the "whistling past the graveyard" variety -- as Local H did on Pack Up the Cats.
Pack Up the Cats Review
by Mark Deming