THERE FRED DURST WAS, dipstick in hand, Pennzoil on brow, informing me that my air filter needed to be replaced. The arms smothered in tattoos, the ball cap in reverse, the scarifying facial hair—it wasn't Durst changing my oil this past weekend after all, but it took a second glance to discern this grease monkey from that greaseball. Call it the Jiffy Lube quandary, when the rock star becomes indistinguishable from the Quaker State jockey.
Vapor Transmissions (Elementree/Reprise)
There's nothing worse than the ordinary-looking metal god. Why would anyone adulate a rock star who looks like them, talks like them, is basically the same schmuck as them, with the only difference being that said star gets to shag models and has a bank account the size of the GNP of Uganda? I don't need that. That hardly makes me feel good about myself in comparison. I want my rock stars to be larger-than-life. I want them to snort cocaine from between porn starlets' breasts and hurl TVs out of hotel windows. I want to live vicariously through them. And I can't do that if you're some guy who looks just like a college roommate who used to spill bong water on the couch.
Of course, there's a place for artists with whom we closely identify, with whom we connect on a more personal level. But there's also a place for detached, pompous, self-indulgent rock stars. And that's Orgy. They put almost as much effort into looking good as they do making music. They're arrogant. They're unlikable. And they're very necessary these days.
With the rise of grunge and its anti-rock star aesthetic at the beginning of the '90s, it suddenly became taboo to wallow in the rock excessiveness that fading stars like Guns N' Roses and M�y Cre had once exuded so fabulously. With the Green Day/Offspring bubblegum punk explosion following closely on grunge's heels, this everyman ethos in rock was perpetuated and continues to thrive, with some of the field's biggest acts, such as Limp Bizkit and Creed, seemingly eschewing the trappings of fame.
But it's really just a clever ruse. It's hard to imagine two bigger rock prima donnas these days than the petulant Durst or the megalomaniacal Scott Stapp, whose behind-the-scene tantrums and conceits are well documented. Yet both cop a pseudo "we're just dudes" pose when the camera's rolling. Kids supposedly identify with these two mansion-dwelling millionaires who are little more than salesmen of self-pity, serving up angst-on-a-stick for disaffected suburban mall crawlers while counting their cash and pretending like they care. All of which wouldn't be so egregious if these acts were more honest about their intentions. Axl never tried to connect with his audience, unless you count his attempts to put his fist through the face of those who tried to take his picture, nor did he ever deny his narcissism.
Neither do Orgy. They wear their pretense on their sleeves. They revel in the superfluous, flaunting it like few bands have done since the halcyon days of hair spray metal in the mid '80s. With killer 'dos and Helmut Lang threads, Orgy attempt to scale the heights of rock excessiveness and proudly pound their chests at its apex like Max-Factored King Kongs.
THE BAND DO JUST THIS on their sophomore effort, Vapor Transmissions. With Jay Gordon's cocksure, "My-penis-sees-more-action-than-defibrillators-in-the-company-of-Dick-Cheney" vocal affectations, Paige Haley's belching bass, and Amir Derakh and Ryan Shuck's heavily processed guitars, Orgy are as synthetic as Britney Spears' breasts. On "Eyes," Gordon is Simon LeBon with methamphetamine-rotted molars swarmed by guitars that growl like underfed rottweilers. Funereal keyboards render the dance-floor dirge of "107" an elegy for Gap-shopping fashion victims. With a stentorian beat that sounds like a million go-go boots stomping a warehouse full of unsold copies of Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals to bits, "Opticon" is a march-or-die anthem for pomade-mad youth in the face of noncomprehending parental units.
On occasion, Orgy brush aside their veil of obfuscation, such as on the moving "Eva," an ode to producer Josh Abraham's deceased mother. But for the most part, lyrics are deliberately opaque, as the band never completely part the curtain of cosmetics to reveal the true faces behind the mascara masks. And they're wise not to do so. Few moments in music were as disheartening as when Kiss scrubbed off the grease paint to expose four paunchy middle-aged fellows with jowls that sagged like their record sales—a disappointment matched only by having the star of your rock and roll fantasies ask if you prefer Castrol or Valvoline.