After chronicling the regrettable life and times of a going-nowhere rock dude on 1996's As Good as Dead and one band's humiliating and unsuccessful bid for the big time on 1998's Pack Up the Cats, Local H songwriter, guitarist, bassist, vocalist, and general point man Scott Lucas returns to his favorite theme -- failure -- on the band's fifth full-length album, 2004's Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? While it would be unfair and inaccurate to say Local H "failed," as an act whose commercial peak came with the mid-'90s grunge boom (whether they liked it or not) and went with the corporate reorganization of their record company not long after Pack Up the Cats was released, Lucas certainly has a perspective on what it's like to end up in the "didn't you used to be that guy?" file, and that experience seems to have informed much of the material on Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? The disc opens with the appropriately titled "Where Are They Now?," an 83-second rant with Lucas shouting "You're never gonna get it" over and over until it stings like a paper cut, which segues into "Everyone's Alive," a keyed-up meditation on the notion of picking up and moving on that also acknowledges the pain of the fall never really goes away. Nostalgia of the most painful kind is the recurring theme of Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?, from the title cut (in which Lucas' onetime infatuation with the star of Rock & Roll High School crosses paths with dreams that went wrong) and the bitter accusations of "How's the Weather Down There?" to the neo-hardcore "Heavy Metal Bakesale," in which Lucas pointedly asks some nameless musician (perhaps himself) "How you gonna live at 40?/How you gonna live it down?/How you gonna live at 40?/Whatcha gonna tell your kids?" But while Lucas ponders where he's been and where someone like himself is supposed to go, he and drummer Brian St. Clair also deliver plenty of potent, no-quarter hard rock; while the band's last full-length, Here Comes the Zoo, was an unfocused disappointment, Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? seethes with raw, bruising power, with the lean and edgy production only adding to the impact of the performances and the venom of Lucas' vocals; this is the strongest and most elemental album Local H have released since the brilliant As Good as Dead. And I swear I smell a hit single in "California Songs," a glorious singalong kiss-off to the Golden State. Regardless of where Local H have been or where they're headed, they're not going away, and Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? proves that this is one band whose smart, funny rage still connects. Highly recommended.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming