Regime change

In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev shocked the West with his infamous proclamation, "We will bury you." He merely meant to assert that the USSR would outlast its capitalist cousins, but a public unfamiliar with Russian idiomatic expressions instead perceived a direct, mortal threat to their lives and livelihood.

Nutrajet guitarist/vocalist Greg Reinel knows his Cold War iconography: His southeast Orlando home is filled with images of spy guys like Napoleon Solo and James Bond. Echoing Khrushchev's promise, Reinel's power-rock duo has weathered the epochs of boyband chic, playground punk, Orange Avenue redneck grunge and myriad other flavors of the musical moment. With the release this month of the band's second full-length CD, "For Your Protection," Nutrajet, too, have buried the competition. And a literal translation wouldn't bother them in the least.

"We're sort of like the party-poopers of this town, and I like that," says Reinel, who has advertised the band with a T-shirt declaring, "30 seconds over downtown Disney." A self-described "thorn in the side of the music scene," Nutrajet have seldom been fashionable in their half-decade of existence, and their antagonistic lyrics and on-stage patter have sometimes left neo-hippie club kids scratching their heads. But a renaissance is at hand. The band has never sounded better, and audiences are learning to embrace what drummer/vocalist Jeff Wood terms the group's "positive negativity."

That stance is inseparable from the band's monstrous sound, which is frequently but erroneously categorized as old-school punk. Sure, Reinel wears the influence of Steve Jones on his sleeve as he pumps out his relentless fusillade of eighth-note rhythms. But the metronomic precision and sonic warmth of Nutrajet make the punk classification inapt. Also, this ain't 1976.

Nowadays, Reinel says, "there is no such thing as punk. And there never will be again. It's not going to happen again. Wake up! If there's anything that is punk about us, it's our attitude, and the fact that we do everything ourselves."

The latest product of their snotty self-reliance is "For Your Protection," their second full-length release on Scottish indie label Twenty Stone Blatt. (U.S. and European distribution is by Cargo.) The record began its life at Sanford's Kingsnake Studios under the guidance of Rick Bailey, producer of the band's eponymous 2000 debut. But Bailey's continued duties as a road musician with LFO necessitated a changeover to Hitmakers for sessions with Bill Mason, previously responsible for The Hate Bombs' "Hunt You Down."

The finished record comprises Nutrajet's most cohesive statement to date. From the opening snarl of "Anyone Who Looks Like You," it's a melodic, anti-everything manifesto with a joyously punchy sound. For the latter, the group credits Mason and his dedication to analog equipment.

"It sounds like everything was recorded together," Wood praises.

"Sounds like" is the key phrase in that statement. Long before The White Stripes got the idea, Nutrajet elected to operate as a rock duo, dispensing with the traditional bass guitarist. Live, Reinel more than compensates for the loss by feeding his guitar signal through a splitter setup that augments his six-string frequencies with full-bodied low end. The convincing result sounds like a full and highly disciplined band, not a technocratic shortcut. But trying to capture that approach in the studio is a quick ticket to mud, so the axe wrangler records his guitar lines as basic tracks and overdubs bass guitar later.

Given the resulting aural fury of newly minted tracks like "Hot Seat," it's something of a surprise that three of "For Your Protection's" 11 numbers -- "Celebrity Fist," "December Drowning" and "Vicious Intent" -- are rerecorded versions of songs that appeared on 2000's Nutrajet. Could the outward signs of vitality obscure a drying up of songwriting inspiration? Not according to Reinel.

"I just felt that the versions [on Nutrajet] weren't up to snuff," he says. "And if you listen to them, they weren't. Those were just three tracks that I felt were good tracks, and that it would be a waste not to cut them with him."

"Him" means Wood, who replaced original drummer Pamela Suzanne Dozier soon after the last record was completed. He still endures the "new boy" label from casual listeners, but in two and a half years, the Tampa-based Wood has firmly imprinted his style and personality on the band. A veteran of Bay area units like Barely Pink, Spiller and Joe Popp, he's injected thunderous fills and rolls far removed from the fine but straight-ahead stickwork practiced by Dozier (who quit Nutrajet to redirect her focus to her personal life). He's also an able foil for Reinel, tempering the guitarist's Rotten-isms with a slightly more approachable persona that justifies his nickname of "the cuddly Beatle."

On stage, Wood has a habit of leaping into the air while playing and landing back on his drum stool with a snare-smashing flourish -- an upstage complement to the unrepentant guitar-hero poses thrown by the wiry, carrot-topped Reinel. The emphasis on entertaining the eye extends to the retro-cheesecake portraits with which Reinel, an accomplished graphic artist, decorates the band's publicity materials (and a recent, controversial issue of this newspaper). No wonder "For Your Protection" includes a QuickTime video of the track "Deleted" -- Reinel firmly believes that rock is a visual medium.

Such ideas are bound to incur the wrath of listeners raised on faceless jam-rock pap, but Reinel and Wood say Nutrajet's appeal is less generational and more a matter of individual disposition. Or maybe it's cultural: They've gone down a treat in the U.K., where they've toured on two separate occasions. They even got to share a stage with ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, who had expressed admiration for their recorded cover of his post-Pistols track, "Ghosts of Princes in Towers." (Wood: "We stalked him.") Their rendition now resides on "Sideswiped," a seven-song covers disc packaged with the first 3,000 copies of "For Your Protection." Subsequent pressings will be sold separately.

Winning the favor of a Matlock -- or of Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, a Reinel idol whose "Lookout" is also on "Sideswiped" -- is the sort of pick-me-up that keeps the circus going.

"We'll do gigs [in Orlando], and I'll have to drive home to Tampa and get up at 5:30 a.m. ready to go to work," Wood relates. "I stare in the mirror and go, 'Why?'"

But whatever quitters' urge may arise doesn't last long, Reinel says: "Eventually I'm going to go out and see some band [and think], "I can do better than those cunts.'"

The spirit to endure comes to the fore in "For Your Protection's" last and best cut, "Don't Hold Your Breath." Over a maddeningly compelling and symmetrical riff, Reinel issues a career-affirming bulletin. "I'm not dead just yet," he warns, "so don't you hold your breath."

Bury us one more time, why don't you.

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