Welcome to the first installment of “Opinions Are Like,” a new column focusing on bands and albums we believe have been unjustly ignored, completely forgotten, or needlessly shat upon. Popular opinion may not hold these things in very high regard, but at least one of us here at Indy Metal Shows does.
First up: in honor of the Return of the Dreads tour coming to Klipsch Music Center on August 6, we take a look at Rob Zombie’s mostly forgotten third album, Educated Horses.
Whether you’re a fan of his or not, I think that most people would agree that Rob Zombie has gotten really good at being Rob Zombie. Whether we’re talking about his music or his films, Zombie knows what his audience expects of him and he’s been very consistent and successful in delivering it. He’s not doing anything that different than what he was doing on White Zombie’s breakthrough album La Sexorcisto: Devil Music Volume One, but why tinker with a formula that works? After all, every one of his six solo records has debuted in the Billboard Top-10.
Well…except he did tinker with the formula once. Educated Horses, his third solo record, is pretty different from anything else in his catalog. And even though the album turned 10 this year, you’re probably not going to hear anything from it at Klipsch. According to setlist.fm (which I realize is crowd-sourced and not necessarily definitive), he very occasionally still plays “The Lords of Salem” as a second encore, but that’s about it. The singles from the album are mostly ignored: “American Witch” will also very occasionally pop up as an encore (though not yet this year), but he hasn’t played “Foxy Foxy” since 2007.
So why has Educated Horses been all but forgotten? Is it just a mediocre mid-period record that’s probably best forgotten? Not at all. In fact, I think it’s Zombie’s strongest solo album. But I can also see why it isn’t as revered as Hellbilly Deluxe. It’s a strange, moody little record, but that’s also the largest part of its charm. Just looking at the album cover is the first clue that there’s something different about the album: it’s a simple black-and-white photo of Zombie in some sort of outdoors setting—no naked women, garish colors, movie monsters, or occult symbols anywhere to be seen. It’s a very understated cover, which pretty accurately reflects the music within.
In some ways, Educated Horses is a transitional record. Most notably, it was the first to feature Zombie’s current guitarist John 5, who also receives songwriting credit on nine of the album’s eleven tracks. I don’t know how much influence J5 ultimately had on the musical direction of the album—though it is the first record with songs written by someone other than Zombie or producer Scott Humphrey—but overall the record is a departure from Zombie’s usual sound in a couple of very key ways. First of all, the industrial/groove/dance elements that have been a hallmark of his music since Astro-Creep: 2000 are essentially gone; instead, there’s a pronounced 70s glam feel to quite a few of the songs. There are very few samples on the record, and the production is much warmer and more natural sounding than on either of his first two solo records. The guitars aren’t overdriven to the point where they barely sound like guitars anymore, and the drums sound live instead of programmed. He’s also drawing from a larger sonic palate on the album, with prominent use of acoustic guitar and even some piano on a couple of tracks.
The album opens with “Sawdust in the Blood,” an instrumental built around a short piano figure and some martial drums. The next two tracks are the album’s singles: “American Witch,” which is really the only song on the record that sounds like it could have fit on Hellbilly Deluxe or The Sinister Urge, and the glam-influenced “Foxy Foxy.” They’re probably also the two least interesting songs on Educated Horses, which might at least partly explain why the record has largely been forgotten
Once you get past the singles, though, things really start to pick up with “17 Year Locust,” which uses sitar to surprisingly creepy effect, and the stomping T. Rex-isms of “The Scorpion Sleeps.” For me, though, the strongest tracks on the record are the swampy, bluesy acoustic guitar-driven tracks that make up most of the second half of the record: “Death of it All,” “Ride,” and especially “The Devil’s Rejects.” There’s a nuance to these cuts that is unique in Zombie’s catalog, both in terms of their arrangements and Zombie’s vocals, and they still stand as the most experimental songs he’s ever done.
Unfortunately, the new direction hinted at in those last few songs didn’t seem to go over well with Zombie’s fan base. Even though it debuted at number five on the Billboard charts, it quickly fell off the charts and was the first of his albums to not receive RIAA certification (Hellbilly Deluxe and The Sinister Urge both went Platinum). Zombie’s next album was Hellbilly Deluxe 2, which was a return to the sort of industrial/groove metal of his previous albums.