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Album Review

In an abrupt volte-face from the lengthy, often languid jams that made up his first two solo albums, on The Howling Hex Neil Hagerty crams 21 songs that span virtually every aspect of his sound into an hour. While his other records — particularly Plays That Good Old Rock & Roll — felt a little slack, this album's overachieving ways compensate in terms of quantity, but, unfortunately, not always in terms of quality. The best songs manage to make The Howling Hex feel a bit like a greatest-hits collection, spanning some of Hagerty's quintessential sounds: the strutting, post-Stones rock of "Firebase Ripcord" and "Out of Reach"; the weird but still affecting acoustic balladry of "Gray" and "Greasy Saint"; and trips into the avant like "Clermont Heights" and "She Drove a Rusted Sled" are among the finest work Hagerty has done since Royal Trux disbanded. However, the sheer amount of music on The Howling Hex is both a blessing and a curse. The album starts out strong and at first, it's dazzling to hear Hagerty dash from one sound to another, but things start to bog down in the album's middle-third. Throwaways like "Fat Street," "I'm Your Son," "Carrier Dog," and "I Remember Old John Brown" aren't so much bad as they are incomplete, robbing the album of its momentum and burying other worthwhile songs such as "The Brooklyn Battery" and "White Sex." The live versions of Neil Michael Hagerty's excellent "Creature Catcher" and Plays That Good Old Rock & Roll's "Rockslide" are nice but not exceptional, and also weigh down the album. Likewise, the 12-minute finale, "Energy Plan," starts off strong but ends up meandering, almost like a microcosm of the album itself. In its own off-kilter way, Neil Michael Hagerty remains the best balance of Hagerty's experimental and classic rock impulses in his solo career; both Plays That Good Old Rock & Roll and this album suggest that Hagerty could benefit from an editor. The previous album had too few ideas stretched too thin, while this album mixes some genuinely inspired material with too many underdeveloped songs. It's too bad that Hagerty didn't simply take the best ideas here and develop them into full-fledged songs, but then his music has never been about taking the easy path. Fans will find more than a few moments to enjoy on The Howling Hex, but will probably be frustrated by its willful indulgence, even if those qualities led to some great music from Hagerty in the past.

The Howling Hex, Neil Michael Hagerty & The Howling Hex
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