Review by Mark Deming [-]
Of the dozens of grunge (or "heavy alternative") bands that emerged in the wake of Nirvana's success, one of the few that managed anything close to Kurt Cobain's emotional resonance was Local H. Just as much of Nirvana's early material was informed by Cobain's experiences growing up as a misfit in blue-collar Aberdeen, WA, Local H's Scott Lucas spun a loose concept album out of life in Zion, IL, a dead-end town in the industrial Midwest, for the group's second disc, As Good as Dead. Though Cobain's artier ambitions added an oddball sonic undertow to his neo-Sabbath dropped chords, Lucas' tastes obviously run to meat-and-potatoes hard rock, with just enough of a melody line to give you something to hum while you bang your head. But while Lucas has the guitar (and bass) style of a rock dude, like Cobain, he has the soul of a punk rocker, albeit one growing up in a nowhere town who isn't sure how to get out. With 13 songs written in the voice of a guy who never got past the city limits, As Good as Dead is a litany of bitterness over a life that's being wasted before your very eyes, from the dumb-ass machismo of "High-Fiving MF" and the delusional nostalgia of "Back in the Day" to the self-destructive dysfunctional relationship of "No Problem" and the alcoholic self-loathing of "Fritz's Corner." Even the album's funny moments speak of disappointment and dashed hopes -- in "Lovey Dovey," Lucas sounds happiest when his best friend is fighting with his girlfriend, and while the line "If I was Eddie Vedder/Would you like me any better?" cuts several ways at once, there's something in the delivery that suggests Lucas knows the answer...and doesn't want to hear it. Musically, As Good as Dead sounds just as brutal as its lyrics; while there's a graceful minor-key lyricism to quieter number like "No Problem" and "Eddie Vedder," Lucas and drummer Joe Daniels bash with an unsettling intensity on "Nothing Special" and "I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are." While the two sludgy slow numbers that close the album bring As Good as Dead to a disappointing conclusion, maybe it's appropriate -- you can't end an album about failure on a note of triumph, and anyone who grew up in a one-paper town will doubtless wince with recognition at the bitter hopelessness of As Good as Dead.