Rob Zombie is one of those artists who, through incidental contact, I became a modest fan of. My college years exposed me to his unique take on the rock and metal form, and I was glad for the experience. Many of the songs he conjured up were a fascinating take on what could pass for pop metal, all the while being as thoroughly addictive as anything more sugary artists were putting out. While I don't pull those tracks off the shelf and blow the dust off them very often, they still bring a smile to my face.
“Educated Horses” is where Rob Zombie lost me. That album was so much the antithesis of what I thought his music was about that I couldn't come to grips with the new direction, nor did I want to. It was an album that disappointed me in several respects, one that I haven't given a moment of thought from its release right until this moment. Having long since abandoned hope of Rob Zombie recapturing my attention, I come to “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” with fresh ears and lowered expectations.
The most immediate thing about the album is the insult it levels against my intelligence. I'm not saying that all music needs to be cerebral, or should embody the spirit of prog, but that's not an excuse for being brain-dead, even when zombies are de rigeur. Just looking at titles like “Teenage Nosferatu Pussy” and “Ging Gang Gong De Do Gong De Laga Raga” are enough to make me hesitate before pressing play. But there have been plenty of stupid songs that are good, so we soldier on.
Rob Zombie's best music was a heavy soup of drop-dead simple hooks that demanded to be worshiped. Whether the monstrously catchy chorus from “Dragula”, or the three chord descending riff that powered “Living Dead Girl”, they were songs that gave you massive hooks first, and the filthy sound of Zombie's vision second. Somewhere along the way, that formula was inverted, and now the grime of his industrial pop metal has become paramount, and the catchy songwriting and sharp hooks are incidental to the vision. Perhaps this has something to do with an aesthetic shift due to his time spent making films, but something has changed, and his music has suffered for it.
There are glimpses of the good old days, but they're few and far between. The horribly titled “Ging Gang....” is actually a pretty good take on the old Rob Zombie sound, complete with the type of hook that wouldn't have seemed out of place sitting besides the classics. “White Trash Freaks” is similar, although not quite as finely honed. They remind you of what made Rob Zombie so much fun in the first place, although they also remind you of how far he's fallen.
The rest of the album recreates the sonic palate of “Hellbilly Deluxe” and “The Sinister Urge”, but that's mere window dressing. The sound is right, but the material is not. Too much of the album feels like b-sides to his earlier work, watered-down versions of better numbers. As sad as it was to hear “Educated Horses” go in a direction I didn't want to follow, in many ways it's even sadder to see a full-blown return to form that can't begin to compare with the original.
“Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” sounds like classic Rob Zombie on first glance, which I give full credit to guitarist John 5 for. He does a wonderful job of bringing that sound back to life, but neither he nor Rob does anything with it. Too often the album feels like a half-hearted attempt by the two to give the fans what they want, when all Rob would rather do is sit behind a camera. If that's the case, perhaps the past should stay in the past.