There's no pose to Reigning Sound's neo-garage racket, no Johnny-come-lately-ism. Bandleader Greg Cartwright has been in the retro scene since the early '90s, when the only people listening to reverb-drenched primitivism were genre cultists. With Oblivians, Compulsive Gamblers, and then Reigning Sound, Cartwright has stripped blues, country, gospel, R&B, and rock to its drunken-singalong roots, but with an appealingly natural shape that only an actual Memphis denizen could trace. On Reigning Sound's 2002 album Time Bomb High School, Cartwright achieved a near-perfect balance of his influences, coming up with a set of approachable, energetic songs with a throwback flavor, but no dated aftertaste.
Too Much Guitar, by contrast, returns to the earsplitting noise of Cartwright's Oblivians days, defying easy access. The album-opening "We Repel Each Other" establishes the approach, obscuring an anxious, Stones-styled rocker behind painfully trebly guitar. "Your Love Is A Fine Thing" sounds like The Rascals, but heard on a dusty, scratchy old 45, while the harmonica and shredded vocals of "When You Touch Me" recalls The Beatles reborn as desperate, dirt-poor psychobilly rockers. Even the relatively hushed ballad "Funny Thing" degenerates into a fuzzy mess when it's not maintaining an echo-y, Animals-like spookiness.
Beneath the shrill distortion, though, the songs on Too Much Guitar are every bit as smart and snappy as those on Time Bomb High School, complete with propulsive rhythms, unforced melodies, and bright arrangements. The record's magnum opus, "Drowning," contains an entire world, fleshed out with carnival organ and a Springsteen-style coda—it's just that the world has been submerged in scrape and static.
Because of its harsh overtones, Too Much Guitar doesn't work well in small doses. It takes the full 36 minutes for the album's fractured, chaotic sensibility to play out and develop meaning. This is neo-garage re-imagined as an extended, uncivilized howl of frustration and carnal gratification. It's raw because that's the only way it can be.