Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Corrosion of Conformity’s America’s Volume Dealer.
Man, no problem: I can defend the living shit out of Corrosion of Conformity‘s 2000 release America’s Volume Dealer. It marked the band’s full-on shift into hayseed rock, yes, but don’t pretend you’re above these songs, because you’re not, I’m not, no one is.
Too bad the drums sound so damn weird, the late Reed Mullin employing some sort of ill-advised electronic kit and in doing so giving the album the only thing I can really complain about, besides toss-off closer “Gettin’ It On.”
“Over Me” is one of the greatest COC songs the band ever wrote. Here’s the thing: 1994’s Deliverance and 1996’s Wiseblood are two of the greatest metal records ever written, give or take. However, they’re both a bit too long and meandering. This song taps into what is great about them—absolutely killer riffing, soulful singing, simple yet powerful structure—and cuts the fat for a perfect 4:19 opener. Pepper Keenan never sounded better behind the mic, and that’s saying a lot.
They follow it up with a song that picks everything up a notch, the shoulda-been huge “Congratulations Song.” Have you spun this recently? It’s way better than anything you have spun recently, I can tell you that much. This one of the greatest one-two opening punches of any record I’ve ever come across in my life. Period. Any bozo who tells me that Load and Reload have “a good album’s worth of songs between them” can stop right there, throw those albums out, and listen to this instead. Because that’s what’s happening here, COC going full southern rock/metal, but doing it with the economy, soul and songwriting finesse that Metallica just did not have at that point. This album does the redneck stomp all over those two.
I recall acoustic front-porch ballad “Stare Too Long” being a bit, uh, “controversial” at the time with me and the pals, which shows that we maybe had a lot of time on our hands, and that we weren’t quite ready for COC’s gradual slip into full-on southern rock. But I’m ready now; man, I’ve never been more ready for these songs, “Stare Too Long” an excellent remedy after the first two rockers here, the song sort of sliding into deep-cut first-album Black Crowes territory, which is just fine by me.
“Diablo Blvd.” gets a bit harder to swallow, and I’m, um, into swallowing a lot here, but it’s slinky as hell, although it’s pushing it a bit as far as the stoned-guy wah-wah kinda shit goes in the verses. But it’s got huge grooves and the chorus is absolutely massive, always worth sticking around for. Built for arenas, but that climax coulda crushed stadiums.
“Doublewide” rides a nice, lazy, hazy groove to the middle of nowhere, but it’s comfortable, and I like how seamlessly all the parts of the song just roll together, which, until you hear a song like this is something you don’t even think about too often. A bit of a forgotten song but it has moments of glory, thanks to another killer vocal performance, featuring some of the biggest Hetfield-isms you’ve ever heard not coming outta Papa’s mouth (and, unfortunately, one of the cringiest examples of that weird drum sound, too).
Now, “Zippo,” this is some funky stuff, and I normally don’t really like music that can be described as “funky stuff.” But this rules, killer slinky verse and a mammoth chorus. “Maybe you’s a rock and roller” indeed. I mean, come on: this rules, and the ending riff is perfection. We’re halfway through and it’s more or less non-stop bangers here. Absolutely justified.
“Who’s Got the Fire,” good lord were COC ever diving deep into this shit, and every song just gets better and better, this one a powerhouse of stoopid rock, but, like I say, it ain’t stupid, it’s just right. Another shoulda-been hit, like KISS circa Rock and Roll Over which is just fucking perfect, Keenan’s lyrics almost devolving to utter, glorious nonsense at points, and it should have been cranking out of the windows of every car for endless summers after it was released, yet, here we are in an unfair and cruel world, humanity not adopting these songs as anthems like it should have. Screw it, screw everything: this song will be cranking out of my windows forever. I’ve got the fire, and I wish you would as well.
“Sleeping Martyr” has a verse I was never huge on, and a crushing chorus I most certainly am huge on. I mean, this is what the record after the Black Album should have sounded like, if that band had any steam left in them at that point. COC had the steam, COC had the fire, and here’s yet another incredible song to prove it. When Keenan sings, “Hold tight/because it’s going to be a long night,” I still get goosebumps.
That song isn’t exactly a party, but the band switches gears quickly: I think “Take What You Want” makes me feel better than any song has ever made me feel, the band hitting all the feels here, this song a total masterclass in feel-good rock.
“13 Angels” is an odd late-album epic, and it works, sombre and slow, tapping into some NOLA vibes here, with another huge chorus. Good goddamn man, how many of these incredible songs does there have to be before you’ll admit this is a great album? I love this one, sprawling, tons of feel, vibe for miles. When it builds at its climax, man, I don’t want to belabour the point, but this is rock-era Metallica but, like, good. Really good. It’s what could have been in a lot of different ways, and I absolutely love it. “The angels just shake their heads” according to our man Pepper here, and I’m shaking my head today at this album not getting anywhere near the respect it deserves here more than two decades after its release.
I mentioned closer “Gettin’ It On” earlier as being an example of what’s not good about this record, and, yeah, it’s still not good, just a no-brainer rocker to end things off, but at least it’s quick and easy, over and done in two and a half minutes. It’s a fun but weak way to end a great record.
Man, maybe I’m wrong but this record is either disregarded or just plain forgotten. I hope COC still throws these songs in their set (well, when Pepper is with them anyway) because there are some monsters here. It keeps me up at night sometimes thinking about this era of COC, these three albums that are not only their best, but a three-album run that most bands would kill for, a trio of discs that should have found the band way huger than it did.
In extreme metal lore, there was an era were Paradise Lost were being touted as “the next Metallica.” I can’t deny that there was a strong case to be made for that, but listening to this record, I can’t help but think that COC should have been the next Metallica, the next band to bring glorious rock/metal to the masses.
But even that kinda detracts from my main point here: this record rules, these songs are fantastic, and there is absolutely no way it should be considered a weak link in COC’s catalogue when it’s actually one of their strongest releases, firmly at the bottom of their trio of arena-rock masterpieces, a very respectable place to be, looking down at the rest of a confusing catalogue, looking down over countless other records, staring quizzically at millions of metalheads that refuse to look up and acknowledge just how good this one is.