With a couple of tours with the Killers under their hot little belts and the release of their new album, The Best Little Secrets Are Kept, the four guys who make up Louis XIV — singer/guitarists Jason Hill and Brian Karscig, drummer Mike Maigaard, and bassist Jimmy Armbrust — have got most of the retro rock world wrapped around their dirty little fingers, especially die-hard groupies the U.S. music press.
“The Best Little Secrets Are Kept is loaded with a raft of inspired songs that burst out of your speakers like they were on fire,” says All Music Guide. And Blender raves, “They exalt in a catchy send-up of swaggering retro-rock sleaze.” Meanwhile, in just over six months, the band has gone from packing Café Du Nord to packing Slim's to packing the Fillmore; this week's concert marks its sixth S.F. appearance since December.
But growing fame and even critical praise don't necessarily make for a band worth listening to, especially when said band's “retro-rock sleaze” is more than a bit sketchy. The rest of us needn't be quite so gullible, nor so susceptible to Louis XIV's seductive charms. So then, in the interest of preserving the reputations of rock fans everywhere, I interviewed singer/guitarist/producer/God's-latest-gift-to-women Jason Hill and came up with the following seven reasons not to jump right into the sack with Louis XIV and all its many acolytes. Enjoy.
No. 1: Desperation Does Not Equal Inspiration
To paraphrase the immortal words of Cheap Trick, the band that may be Louis XIV's spiritual dad (deadbeat, of course), San Diego's self-professed Sun Kings really want you to want them. One track that claims a prowess so enticing it'll have you “[pledging] allegiance to the united states of me” is kind of cute. But after seven of these, the band starts to sound desperate — and that kind of stank is pretty hard to wash off, no matter how many cold showers you take.
No. 2: White Is Right, Unless It's Wrong
Did you know that “chocolate girl” is considered a “very affectionate” term by most black women? Neither did I. But according to Hill, that's the case; he insists that if we find that term (or its kissing cousin “little Asian friend”) offensive, we're “probably white people that think that that's insulting to a black girl.” Apparently we simply don't know much about what makes Asian- and African-American girls feel all soft and fuzzy inside.
No. 3: Louis XIV Likes It a Little Too Rough
The nastiest of Louis XIV's not-so-well-kept little secrets can't be smoothed over with sweet nothings. When asked what he thinks of criticism that the album is sexist, Hill replies, “I don't buy it. I mean, I wrote an album that is about affection for women, you know?” He then goes on to tell me about how “spunky” the female characters in his songs are. Personally, I never feel spunkier or more loved than when a guy includes me in a multicultural laundry list of girls he wants to nail and tells me he wants to “wind you up and make you crawl to me” or “squeeze you away until you bleed.” HOT!! Pair that with the chipper, Fab Four-iffic “Letter to Dominique,” featuring a heroine who just wants “a strangle or a mouthful of gasoline”; a sizzling hot album cover depicting a woman enticingly playing dead on a bathroom floor so the band could print its track list on her bare ass; and a cute theme about how cool it is to keep “secrets,” and you've got yourself a tender little ode to rape. Aw, how sweet!
No. 4: “I Bring My Mother Flowers” Is the Oldest Line in the Book
Hill seems like a polite, affable guy who perhaps really does see the leering falsetto he lends the female characters in his songs as just, according to him, a playful imitation of his girlfriend's drunken “adorable gibberish.” But that renders him and his mates' foppish, derivative brand of misogyny all the more dangerous, because their charm makes it far too easy to disregard their language as mere schoolboy prattle — and to ignore exactly what they're trying to say. Is the real Louis XIV Jason Hill, who “[brings his] mother flowers every time I see her,” or the guy who wants his conquest to “roll over/ Do me a trick”? Hill writes off any affront to listeners' sensibilities as the result of a “repressed society” in which “people get all offended [when] … somebody spunkily talks about sex.” But there's a difference between sexy and sexist, and most of us aren't as familiar with the subtle nuances of it as Hill seems to be. I am not making a PMRC-style call for censorship; I just have a longing for rock that's more responsible — or, at the very least, more arousing.
No. 5: If Keith Richards Jumped Off a Bridge, Louis XIV Would, Too
At this point, many of you are probably itching to write a scathing letter to the editor about how rock 'n' roll is, by definition, rebelliously offensive. You've got a list of the usual suspects going, right? The gods in whose randy, button-pushing footprints Louis XIV now prances? Elvis, the Stones, AC/DC, even the Beatles, and don't forget (by extension) Snoop Dogg and Robert Johnson. Not so fast. Rebellion is a crucial, infectious part of rock, yes. But the regurgitation of worn-out, systematically insulting clichés is not subversive — it's just kind of mean-spirited, and more than a little pathetic. Even the least derogatory of Secrets' sexxxxy songs are obvious efforts to cash in on the past. I mean, an oversexed ode to a scorching schoolmarm (“Hey Teacher”)? That's so 1984.
No. 6: Louis XIV's Music Can't Get It Up
Maybe my feminist panties wouldn't be in quite such a big, cranky bunch if Louis XIV could put its sound where its dirty little mouth is. The music on Secrets is catchy and familiar, chock-full of naughty little handclaps and glammy, garage-y licks. If I don't listen to the words at all, I kind of like it, maybe even like-like it. But none of the rock-hard riffs has much potency or staying power — certainly not enough to make even a one-night stand with the lyrics worth it.
No. 7: Size Matters
Finally, could there be a more self-aggrandizing band name? If a bunch of rockers draw a nominal connection, satirical or not, between themselves and a megalomaniacal ruler/ladies' man of epic proportions, then back it up with snide vocals and raunchy lyrics so full of hubris that they nearly trip over themselves in their effort to swagger, whatever said band is really packing can only drastically pale in comparison. It's like naming your band “Ron Jeremy.”
OK, so after all this, some of you may still be rolling your eyes because I've missed the joke, haven't I? Louis XIV's offenses are safe because the band isn't serious about all this misogyny business — it's parodying rock's dirty dinos. Or at least that's what the majority of the music press seems to be selling. (Says Rolling Stone, Louis XIV “[p]airs the thrilling hedonism of early-Seventies T. Rex and David Bowie with cartoonishly sexed-up vocals that make winking fun of glitter rock's excesses.”) But I don't think I'm in the market for a cop-out. Hill quite clearly — and seriously — sees his band as part of the lineage of great rock 'n' rollers. When asked about how, um, analogous its sound is to that of bands like the Stones and T. Rex, Hill responds, “It's good company to be in, I suppose. … I mean, it doesn't get much cooler than Ronnie Wood or Keith Richards. I love the Stones. I love T. Rex. You know, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm a big Marc Bolan fan.” Irony, in the right hands, can be a sharp, hilarious critique — but Louis XIV very obviously isn't in the business of searing, sidesplitting camp. And writing off all the band's questionable taste as mere parody makes it far too difficult to criticize Louis XIV for how truly offensive and offensively derivative its music is.
If we look past all the icky, not-so-attractive stuff, Hill and company may seem charming, even a little cute. But we don't have to give it up on the first date, at least not to this latest hot young thing to blow through town. There are bigger, more interesting fish in the sea.
Top Six Things Jason Hill Said to Me With a Straight Face
No. 6: “We've heard so many comparisons. … I think that's just what happens when people don't know, you know, when you have a new sound, I suppose.”
No. 5: “You gotta be careful what you listen to as an artist, because you'll kind of spit it out there when you least expect it.”
No. 4: When asked whether the band really is as lucky with the ladies as its songs imply: “A gentleman never speaks — that's the way I feel about it. I mean, I do pride myself on being a gentleman and having class, and I wouldn't ever tell, you know, I couldn't ever talk about such things.” Unless they're in a song, of course.
No. 3: “I don't find [the album] degrading, and, you know, I personally have never met a girl that found it degrading. I'm sure they're out there if they read into it the wrong way.”
No. 2: “[The album is] certainly not racist, I mean, if only mostly because everybody in the band has a thing for Asian and black girls.”
No. 1: In response to implications that his band may be sexist: “I'm a guy that literally plays with teddy bears, I literally do! I have a teddy bear here with me right now! You know, I love 'em. I love soft things.” — R.D.