It's been four and a half years since Mr. Zombie last released an album of new material. That album was The Sinister Urge and I didn't like it. It sounded like an album of Hellbilly Deluxe (Zombie's vastly superior debut solo album) b-sides. A group of orphaned songs that was never quite good enough to be adopted into a real record. The time in between albums was not to be spent idly, however, with the release of the Past, Present and Future compilation as well as Zombie's second directorial feature film, The Devil's Rejects.
In interviews over the last few years, Mr. Zombie has repeatedly stated how disillusioned he had gotten in the musical aspect of his career - particularly the group infighting that was happening during and after the tour for The Sinister Urge, although it would seem that Zombie's discontent might have pre-dated The Sinister Urge's recording process as repeated listens would seem to indicate that his heart just wasn't into it.
Fast Forward to 2006 and we have the release of Rob Zombie's third album, Educated Horses, a so-called stripped down version of the Zombie spectacle. "Stripped down" is somewhat inaccurate as musically the density is there, but the aggression is not. Whether or not you find this to be a bad thing depends on why you listen to Rob Zombie in the first place. If you dig it because the power and the theatrics and that helps you get your nut, then no, Educated Horses will be a letdown. For me, the album harkens back to why I ever started listening to the man in the first place. The same reason as probably anyone over twenty-three has. Back, way back to a simpler time, a bygone era: 1992. The first time we heard "Thunder Kiss '65." It was new, it was fresh, it was so fucking badass that all I could do was weep on my pillow, knowing that no matter what I do in this life, I could never be that cool.
Reviews of the day described White Zombie as "NY Scuzz-Rock" which, after seeing the video seemed like a pretty apt description. The album it came from, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume 1, was chock full of these spooky grooves that was anything else at the time. With technology came the switch from spooky grooves to spooky samples that, along with the faster tempo and horror imagery served the man well these last few years. But the ceiling for that type of music can only go so high and Zombie knows it. Hence, Educated Horses' return to the groove.
I'll admit - when I first heard the lead-off single "Foxy Foxy", I was dubious, but in the context of the album as a whole, it makes more sense. The tempo may have changed somewhat but with songs like "Let it All Bleed Out," "American Witch," and "The Lords of Salem" it's very apparent that it's still very much a Rob Zombie album. New guitarist and co-writer John Five, formerly of Marilyn Manson does an admirable job of making these "stripped down" tunes not just down and dirty, but downright slimy.
Rob Zombie's not a fool. He's a smart man who knows the explosions and effects will only captivate your audience for so long. Granted, I don't think we'll be seeing him on VH-1 Storytellers anytime soon, but you don't need to be Natalie Merchant to know that sometimes it's just about the music.