For whatever cosmic reason, both of these discs from the post-Royal Trux outfits of Jennifer Herrema and Neil Michael Hagerty sound like a distillation of what they’ve wrung from their separate muses since 2000. But they also mark the point at which the rate of return starts to diminish. Herrema’s goofily earnest sleaze rock, right down to the study-hall notebook doodling of RTX’s CD-packaging art, comes off predictably loud and snotty on third studio album JJ Got Live RaTX. But apart from a couple of fun flourishes (an opening space-funk guitar solo that recalls Eddie Hazel’s gritty Funkadelic workouts, a gleeful cover of garage-rock linchpins the Barbarians’ “Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl”), RTX’s riff begins to sound a little rote. Even the more playful tracks toward the end of the album, after Herrema has worked out her Ratt and Lita Ford urges, begin to slip past without registering.
Hagerty’s Howling Hex, which plows the radically different but equally worked-over field of nerd-rock whimsy on Earth Junk, starts promisingly, with a spooky clutter of hooting keyboards and echo-soaked vocals. But a few songs in, beginning with the insistent “Annie Get Redzy,” you can hear Hagerty working to stretch the conceit. Again, there are a few bright moments: “The Arrows” is a creepy declaration of love rooted in attitude, delivered perfectly in Hagerty’s sneering tenor. But as everything keeps falling apart in both the lyrics and the arrangements, the loose approach starts to sound messy, until it plays like Alex Chilton’s cheeky flirtations with self-destruction. Sincerity isn’t the problem on JJ Got Live RaTX and Earth Junk; you get the sense that Herrema and Hagerty made exactly the albums they wanted to make. But right now, there isn’t any need to reinvent these particular wheels, whether they’re found on a canary-yellow Camaro or a thrift-store Big Wheel. [www.dragcity.com]