There was always a perception, due to his relative fame, that MONSTER MAGNET guitarist Ed Mundell was the brains and brawn behind Jersey power trio THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX. Well, he's out, ex-CORE frontman Finn Ryan is in on guit/vox, and the band is making it known in no uncertain terms that Mundell (and his main gig) was a millstone around BITCHWAX's neck, keeping them off the road and out of the limelight.
Think I'm assuming too much? The only song to have its lyrics printed in the handsome digipak for "3" (take a gander at that pinball-playing honey… that's Wes "MORTICIAN" Benscoter art!) is "The Passenger". Check it out:
"Waited around for a long time / And always hoped you'd walk away / Realize where your home really was / Fill the space you left with fuzz / Personalities hold you hostage / Afraid to stand up for yourself / Look around, where did all your friends go? / Replaced now, just like I did to you / I hope you have a fun ride / Follow it all the way down / You're riding as a passenger / Seems to be your destiny / You drop the ball and swear it was me / At some point you'll have to face facts / And fix it all cuz it all got wrecked / Realize where your home really was."
All this vitriol would be academic if the band (Ryan, drummer Keith Ackerman, and bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, also of BLACK NASA) didn't let the music do the talking for the vast majority of "3". BITCHWAX could always deliver some cookin' jams, but vocals, hooks and songs were always kind of an afterthought. Other than the killer "Birth to the Earth" on their debut, a lot of their jams were just that, long bonged-out stoner rock odes that had their own shaggy charm, but didn't stick to the ribs much after the record was over.
But this time out… hot damn! "3" is easily the band's finest hour. Adding a dose of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE vocal hookiness and keeping the warm, friendly '70s boogie-rock tone, THE ATOMIC BITCHWAX shuffle through enough a whole damn album full of oughta-be-hit-singles. "The Destroyer" is a tire-squealing raveup that sets the tone for the rest of the album with an unstoppable energy and insistent tempo. "You Oughta Know" slips into an amiable shuffle with another killer chorus, while "You Can't Win" — without sounding pretentious or overly proggy — gleefully shifts tempos and throws around some carpal-tunnel-inducing riffs.
Not to be missed is the band's charismatic cover of DEEP PURPLE classic "Maybe I'm a Leo", or the slinky, bluesy "Going Guido". And even at their most accessible — "If I Had a Gun" flirts with FOO FIGHTERS territory — the tunes are infectious and the playing is impeccable, never selling out the riff for the sake of a would-be hit. Where the band used to go almost half-instrumental on previous records, here there's only one — "Force Field" — with Ryan and Kosnik both capable and complementary vocalists, the influx of new singing is a welcome thing, and only adds to the diversity of the material.
That's the beauty of "3" — every song has its own identity, and every ounce of every note is full of urgency and energy. There's not one spot where the band coasts on tired stoner rock cliché or phones it in. There's a definite "do or die" feel here, the band itching to bust out of their long inactivity and really make their mark. And if there's any justice, "3" will do just that, vaulting these Jersey devils over creatively out-of-gas outfits like FU MANCHU to the top of the bong-rock heap. A surprising and welcome kick in the ass, and quite possibly a contender for the Top 10 this year.