Music Matters

True Blood not just soft-core vampire porn: It's rock with bite

True Blood not just soft-core vampire porn: It's rock with bite

Full disclosure:  I’m not really a fan of True Blood, the Southern gothic vampire series on HBO which has become quite the cultural phenomenon.

I must admit that I tried to pick it up midstream, leaving me baffled at the plot machinations, but I don’t think it would have mattered much either way. To me, it seemed an uneasy mix of acting hambonery and soft-core porn. Hey, whatever floats your boat; it’s just not my cup of tea. (Or cup of blood, as the case may be.)

That said, the one refreshing thing about True Blood the fact that these vampires had little regret about their bloodlust. No brooding seems to be allowed in Bon Temps, Louisiana, which certainly bucks the trend among the nightwalkers these days. Luckily, the curators of True Blood: Music From the HBO Original Series — Volume 2 have seized upon this abandon and delivered a compilation that might as well be subtitled Undead And Loving It.

All you need to do is look at the collection of oldies chosen for inclusion here to get a sense for the prevalent mood. You’ve got Screamin’ Jay Hawkins making maniacal noises on “Frenzy.”  There’s some full-bore garage rock from the 13th Floor Elevators on “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” And Junior Walker & The All Stars deliver boisterous horn-filled bop on “Shake And Fingerpop.” Each of those songs comes just shy of being a novelty, but the sense of fun they bring goes a long way.

Too much of that stuff could have been wearying though, which is why the soundtrack strikes a balance with newer acts a little more studied in their raucousness. Beck plays like Jack White with the scuzzy riffs of “Bad Blood” and the results are slightly askew, but in a good way. Eels contribute “Fresh Blood,” a menacing album track from a few years ago featuring Mark Oliver Everett’s microphone-piercing holler, and darn if it doesn’t sound like it was tailor made for this show.

And M. Ward kicks the album off in fine fashion with his signature hazy rockabilly on “Howlin For My Baby.”

You’ve also got a rock legend pitching in, as Robbie Robertson locks into a sultry groove on “How To Become Clairvoyant.” With his songwriting and guitar-playing gifts clearly intact, the former Band leader certainly raises hopes for his solo album coming out later this year.

Some of the newer faces and lesser-known names don’t fare quite as well. “Evil (Is Going On)” by Jace Everett and CC Adcock goes too far over the top in asserting its wildness, while Chuck Prophet’s “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)” doesn’t go nearly far enough. And the Thievery Corporation’s use of dialogue clips from the show in “The Forgotten People (Bon Temps Remix)” veers a little close to “Batdance” territory.

Dropped into the middle of this strange mélange of sounds is Lucinda Williams’ stunning ballad “Kiss Like Your Kiss.” With good buddy Elvis Costello harmonizing, Williams’ achingly elegant lament effortlessly digs past all of the silliness to get deep into the wounded core of the vampire myth: The way that the ardor of lust gives way to unfathomable emptiness once it departs.

“Kiss Like Your Kiss” reaches levels of profundity that the rest of the album can’t hope to match, but that’s all right, because the show itself doesn’t get there either.

You’ve still got a mix with about six or seven keepers, which isn’t a bad batting average these days, along with one classic which is worth the price of admission all by itself. If you’ll permit me one more lousy vampire pun, I’d say that certainly doesn’t bite.

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "Frenzy" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "Bad Blood" by Beck

Adobe Flash Required for flash player.  "Kiss Like Your Kiss" by Lucinda Williams

True Blood scene
True Blood is more than vampires getting busy. Courtesy of HBO
True Blood poster
Yes ... this lead to good music.