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Nasty Rox Incorporated

ZTT/Warner Bros.

Trevor Horn may be the most important producer since George Martin, but recently his Midas touch has been more like Medusas: Frankie Goes To Hollywoods second album flopped; Art of Noise left Horns record company, ZTT, in a huff; and Frankie lead singer Holly Johnson sued the label, won, and ZTT paid court costs.

Horn has been forced to freelance, and although he and protégé Stephen Lipson coproduced two cuts on the last Pet Shop Boys album, few reviews of Introspective mentioned that fact—expect the same response to their production on the new Simple Minds. Nowadays sampling, which Horn pioneered on “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” is available to any simpleton on exstasy. “Pump Up the Volume” proved that drum programming really was “a piece of piss” (as Horn had always insisted) and that it was impossible to distinguish the bogus and the bona fide.

Enter Nasty Rox Incorporated, ZTTs latest “Next Frankie,” an attempt to imitate Horns imitators with one last, inimitable smorgasbord of rap, funk, metal, glam and pothead—Paul McCartney production. The first single, “Escape From New York,” was a seeming bite of “Pump Up the Volume”‘s “Courageous Cat” bass line. (In fact, “Escape” was written with M/A/R/R/Ss Dave Dorrel and Martyn Young before “Pump Up the Volume.”) Unfortunately, “Escape” took so long to produce that it was tagged as passé when it came out in early ‘88. ZTT sat on the project for a year—which is why Nasty Rox will self-produce their next album for Warners—but their debut album, Cash, (which early press releases promised would be called Led Zep II) still makes the Chili Poopers sound like Huey Lewis and the Beasties like Barry Manilow. Its not just homeboy rap, its music. Remember, this is a Trevor Horn production.

Which means its also entertainment. Nasty Rox are full of themselves, to say the least; the first song isnt merely “8th Wonder” (as in of the world), but “9th Wonder.” Its followed by “10th Wonder,” an even stranger brew of Sly Stone beats, James Brown braggadocio, George Benson chords, Jimmy Page solos, salsa horns and progrock arrangements. They also like to play the rock-star-as-fascist. In one song lead singer Dan Fox packs an Uzi, in another he threatens to “put a bullet in your brain,” in still another he claims to have “violence and crime all around me.” Phrases like “we rock harder than youll ever know” and “Im laying down the law,” capture that classic, salami-in-the-spandex rock aura.

Since Nasty Rox arent metal morons or rap retards, the pistol imagery is harmless sexual innuendo, and the paramilitary jargon is balanced by lines like “Hotter than chili thats been left out in the sun.” As literal as rock gets without being Spinal Tap, the chorus to “Say It, Mean It” is simply: “Say it (Say it) just like you mean it/Say it like you mean it but I know you dont.” Likewise, “Escape From New York” samples Chuck Browns declaration: “I need some money.”

Such blunt desperation for moolah makes for some very up-to-the-minute music, where 70s hard rock truths dovetail with 80s dance floor insights. Backed by the worlds greatest drummer, Keith LeBlanc, and M/A/R/R/Ss turntable sampler, C.J. Mackintosh, Nasty Rox Inc.—in the glorious tradition of Bad Co.—even have an eponymous corporate anthem, which Fox says is a “piss-take on all the rappers who go around saying how big their dicks are.”

Like all Horn productions, Cash is padded with instrumentals. “Nobbys One”—which sounds like the theme from “The Streets of San Francisco”—is ingenious, while “Wooba Wubbaa II”—Art of Noise piano pasted onto the drums from “When The Levee Breaks”—is merely ingenuous. All in all, however, you gotta love a band thats opened for James Brown (but uses a drum machine in concert) and which nicknames their bassist “Leo T” and their guitarist “King ND” (just so it rhymes when Fox introduces them in “Escape From New York”). And you also gotta love an album that wanted (and almost deserves) to be called Led Zep II.