I HAVE TO COME CLEAN with you guys, I fucking love me some classic rock. The first thing I did sliding into the car as a pimply teenager was flip on KGON, hoping for that killer "rock block" of Boston. Fifteen years later, perhaps sadly, very little has changed. With that off my chest, I can tell you this: Comets on Fire's new album Avatar is one of the best slabs of red hot boogie-psyche since the Silver Age of Deep Purple and the Allman Brothers.
Comets on Fire were kicking out the jams long before either current waves of garage rock or psychedelia were fashionable. Far from pretentious, talking to the Comets as much as seeing them live, it's always been clear that these were five old friends who liked to drink, smoke, and have fun—y'know, what a Rock Band is supposed to do. That natural conviction shines through on their albums, like the critically lauded Blue Cathedral, with its eruptions of bombastic Stooges/Motörhead revelry that could melt the needle off your turntable. Unsurprisingly, the Comets have built up momentum (certainly helped in some small part by the parallel success of guitarist Ben "Six Organs of Admittance" Chasny) eventually plummeting to earth at the ground zero of northwest rock 'n' roll, Sub Pop Records. Well, not to burst anyone's bubble, but to all you diehard fans: Whoo-eee, are you going to be surprised by Avatar.
In an interview with the band's effects guru, Noel Von Harmonson a while back, Arthur Magazine revealed that the Comets were decisively split in their feelings about the Grateful Dead. Well, listening to Avatar, especially tracks like "Lucifer's Memory" and album closer "Hatched Upon the Age," it's pretty clear which camp won out in the end. Don't get me wrong, the Comets will never be playing meandering two-hour sets for amphitheaters packed with strung-out hacky sackers. But like long lost cuts off American Beauty, these tracks somehow tap into the Jer-Bear in his prime, turning a country rock ballad on its ear and transmuting it into something both melancholy and achingly beautiful.
Avatar isn't all wine and roses; there's still plenty of paint-sniffing stoner riffage to go around. In "Dogwood Rust" and "The Swallow's Eye," gnarled fuzz leads square off against grinding Hammond organs and skittering drum fills as rushes of Echoplex delay swoop down like birds of prey. Still, only with the three-minute adrenaline burst of the sludgy "Holy Teeth" does the band choose to hint at its past legacy.
To you naysayers who might harbor a grudge against the Comets for pussing out a bit, I leave you with this: Anyone who thinks rock 'n' roll is "dangerous" or "subversive" in this day and age is living in a fantasy world; just go down to Nordstrom and check out the impressive rack of AC/DC baby doll Ts and you'll get my drift. The old girl has been kicking it for nearly 50 years; you can't fault her for wanting to grow up a little now and then.