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The Last Hard Men
The Last Hard Men [Spitfire, 2001]


Once upon a time, Eddie Van Halen was backstage at a Nirvana gig. He approached Kurt Cobain and asked if he could come out to jam with the band for the encore, and was surprised when his offer was rebuffed. Van Halen may have been clueless, but for anyone observing, the reasons should have been obvious: why would a true artist like Cobain feel the need to mix up his music with someone like Van Halen, who, at this point in his career, was churning out watery pop-metal?

Well, the Frogs are not—and never will be—anything like Nirvana in terms of commercial success. But the analogy isn't completely useless. Jimmy and Dennis Flemion are quintessential cult musicians, admired by a fervent few. They can count several celebrities among their champions: the aforementioned Cobain, who used to play their classic faux-gay-supremacist album It's Only Right And Natural over the p.a. before Nirvana's sets; Eddie Vedder, who picked the Frogs to be Pearl Jam's opening act for a mid-1990s tour; Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, who reportedly does a good cover of the Frogs' "Homos" at his live shows; and Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, who produced the band's Starjob EP. And then there's Sebastian Bach, the former lead singer of the chart-topping hair farmers Skid Row (cue the Sesame Street ditty: "One of these things is not like the other...").

The Last Hard Men were a one-off supergroup of sorts: Jimmy Flemion, Kelley Deal of the Breeders, Smashing Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, and Bach, who produced the album (it was recorded sometime in 1996 or 1997, but apparently it languished in major label limbo until now). Bach appears to be the driving force behind its belated release, but Flemion—who could never be accused of unprolificity—wrote the lion's share of songs. The album opens with a snippet of amateur psychological profiling that will elicit a groan in anyone familiar with inter-office email: you're asked to pick three words to describe water, for example, and upon scrolling down to the bottom, you're told that your choices indicate your attitude toward sex. By 2001, this email has ceased to make the rounds as frequently, as its novelty value wore off some time ago—around the time the album was made—and the subsequent interludes over the course of the CD with the rest of the band members are a time-waster; the "revelations" at the end shore up the pointlessness of the exercise (Bach seems to have misheard one of the questions entirely). The first song is "Sleep," which came out on the Frogs' most recent effort, Hopscotch Lollipop Sunday Surprise; Bach belts it out with his bombastic, squeezed-nuts shriek. He takes on Flemion's mellower songs, such as "Who Made You Do It?" and "The Most Powerful Man In The World," with the sappy overemoting that typifies the dreaded power ballad. When Bach puts the microphone down, things improve. Deal scores points with "Candy Comes," which could be a hit for the Breeders if they ever put out another album, and with the spookily subdued "Baby, I'm King." Flemion steps up to sing on three tracks, and it's a pleasure to hear his simple, gorgeous tune "When The Longing Goes Away" in the hands of a full live band; it's an improvement over the demo-like version that turned up on Hopscotch. But there's a lot of cringe-inducing stretches in between these moments.

This whole project begs awkward questions. Do the Flemions' egos need such huge amounts of stroking that they'll welcome any and all "stars" who profess admiration? If Kip Winger came a-knockin', would they view it as a networking opportunity? They've made it plain in interviews that they feel their genius has gone unappreciated by the music industry at large, and while it could be cogently argued that they've commercially shot themselves in the foot with their predilection for vulgarity and controversy, I wouldn't argue their genius. On the other hand, it's possible that Jimmy's winking at his fans, and Bach doesn't get the joke; if this is the scenario, then Jimmy has a hell of a poker face. It's too bad that Dennis wasn't recruited to play on the record. Bach's pomposity could use a serious skewering, courtesy of Dennis' profane, off-the-cuff barbs that pepper live Frogs gigs; I kept waiting to hear Dennis crack "You're really rocking this shithole tonight, pretty boy," but it never happened.

Hardcore Frogs fans—and most Frogs fans are hardcore—will want to pick this up for Flemion's contributions; several of his songs are exclusive to the album, or otherwise only available on hand-dubbed cassettes from his band's website. But be warned: you'll have to deal with them being filtered through a prince of schlock metal.

James Lindbloom