With Head In The Dirt, likeable White Stripes impersonator Hanni El Khatib gives us 11 three-minute soft-punk blues treats.
He delivers fat drum rhythms, rocky guitars, feisty keyboards, and at times a very good combination of voice and lyrics. There are elements of The Clash and even The Rolling Stones in Head In The Dirt, but the overall impression is that he’s got a ouija board strapped to Jack White’s soul. It is, perhaps, a mean comparison, because El Khatib produces some very good, commercial music.
The most annoying track is Family – a word that is oft repeated and oft spelled in the song. It’s all crashy percussion, high-note pianos and grindy-waily guitairs. The ingredients are there: it should be good, but it’s not. Interestingly enough, El Khatib’s own family are first generation Filipino-Palestinian immigrants to the States. Maybe I’m being unkind and he’s so proud of them he’s got to sing about it.
The rest of the album though is far superior to this minor annoyance. Pay No Mind is likeable and moshable that puts me in mind of shouty turn-of-the-century Swedes, The Hives. Skinny Little Girl reminds me of Kings of Leon, and the title track Head In The Dirt wouldn’t be out of place on a Kasabian album. Elsewhere there’s much organ grinding (of the keyboard variety) which will please fans of The Charlatans or Queens of the Stone Age like myself.
The highlight of the album is the stomp-pop track four, Penny. With its line, “You’re my perfect, perfect, perfect, little Penny”, this song will melt any girl’s heart. Or it would if it were not about a low-denomination coin. It appears to be simultaneously a lovesong and a cri de couer of the credit crunch. It’s a song I can imagine sung around a fire at a 99% camp at Wall Street (are they still doing that?).
In House on Fire, the album’s down-tempo finish, El Khatib’s sexy scratchy vocal finally comes to the fore. It shows power, polish and potential, and it should definitely feature more his next album.
So all in all Hanni El Khatib’s Head In The Dirt is a likeable bit of soundalike commercial rock fun with some flashes of excellence.
by Rob Finch