Robin Black CD release at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (February 18). $10. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
After seeing Robin fucking Black around town for a few years and never actually speaking to him, I decided that he was kind of self-important and silly.
Silly because of the fussy fashion sense - no sensible person has the time or energy for all that eye makeup and accessorizing. And self-important because of a tendency to constantly boast that his was the greatest band in the world and crapping all over other Canadian rock acts.
I mean, c'mon, man, shitting on Nickelback is the easiest, most obvious thing you can do.
Black is the first to admit that he was rather a "loudmouth," but says on the phone that he's a changed man these days.
"We say we're songwriters and performers who make records, so I decided it's a much more valuable use of my time to work on writing a great song than it is to make sure I'm the drunkest guy in the Bovine talking about how great I am."
All this at the very beginning of our conversation and without even being asked. I am somewhat charmed and disarmed.
Black's second disc, Instant Classic, which launches this week, was produced by GGGarth Richardson, who produced their debut Planet: Fame, and by Bob Ezrin, producer of Pink Floyd's The Wall, Kiss's Destroyer, early Alice Cooper albums and Lee Aaron's Call Of The Wild (which I'll mention because nobody ever mentions Lee Aaron).
Landing Ezrin as producer, says Black, was a production - literally.
"The question was: why the hell would this man ever work with us? I had to prove to him that we were worth it."
He says Ezrin gave him impossible tasks worthy of a Canadian reality show.
"He would say, 'Learn these 15 songs and write me an essay and tell me what it is you learned about what that song means and why it's important. '"
He also told the band to write 10 more songs and have them demo'd and sent to him in four days.
"If we'd said, 'How can we demo 10 songs in four days with no money and no studio?', he would not have worked with us. It would have been over.
"His whole thinking was, 'If they can't find the couple of grand it takes to do this - maybe lose their job or girlfriend because it's her birthday but they have to work for 36 hours - if they're not willing to do that then the second they have a setback I'll have made this record for free and they'll get nowhere. '"
Black says it just never crossed his mind that he was not going to convince Ezrin to produce his record.
"And it was the craziest shit. 'Look, you guys,' he would say, 'you want to play arenas and entertain millions of people and sell millions of records, but you're 8 pounds overweight. So when I see you, you better have lost it.'
"It sounds insane, but it mattered enough to us to convince this man that we were the kind of guys who would go out and do it."
Obviously, they got their way. The result is tight, flashy rock 'n' roll. Instant Classic is catchy and pretty slick, with a touch of a Decline Of Western Civilization: The Metal Years-era Sunset Strip kind of feel.
Black's vocals evoke Bonn Scott and sometimes a little Tom Keifer. The rhythm section rides like cruisin' down the road in a Viper pickin' up chicks - chicks who like guys who wear makeup, of course.
There are moments that kind of bug me, like the single Over You, which has a video to go with it. The lyrics to this track trumpet, "It's time for the rise of the freaks, the geeks, the individuals and the weirdos." But, appearance-wise at least, what with the multiple piercings, tattoos, etc, doesn't the band look pretty much like everyone else out there right now?
"I know," Black says, but he points out that he looked the same all the way through the 90s when everyone else looked like smacked-out gay lumberjacks.
"The rest of the world started to look like us in recent years, and that's fine. What those lyrics mean is that it's always been the oddballs and misfits who've gravitated toward our band. And we feel like we need to nurture those people because that was us when we were in high school. Those are the people who are going to change the world, so those are the people we like to talk to."