The Nixons sound needy. I don't want to make too much of it, but if you go to see them at the Pig Pen in Clinton on August 24, please give the guys a hug and tell 'em you love 'em. Listen to Scott Bush, the brand spanking new guitarist for the Dallas-based band, after fumbling around looking for a description of his band's sound: "They can call it whatever they want, as long as they like it."

Such a naked plea for acceptance is a bit strange coming from a band that seems to have one of the more devoted fan bases on the planet. Scan through customer comments at and see the gushing praise about The Nixon's having made the world's greatest CD - again. (This is mild hyperbole. Very mild.)

On the other side, there are the critics. You know you're in trouble when the normally charitable arbiters at (slogan: "We like everything") dismiss your 1995 debut as "soulless, generic grunge." Ouch.

Granted, that was a long time ago, but which is it?

Surely, one source of the schism is that The Nixons make polished grunge, as much as that's possible. They also don't seem very angry at the world, their parents, or their second-grade teachers. They sound a touch lovelorn, honestly. While that'll send the angst kids running and have the critics screaming "lightweights," it'll also draw a more upbeat audience.

Bush has been on-board for less than four months, and - just to illustrate this anti-grunge thing - claims the world of The Nixons is swell. "We've been doing pretty well everywhere," he said of the band's current tour, which has found them opening for the likes of Bush, Godsmack, and Stone Temple Pilots.

But there was tension. After the group's new album Latest Thing was finished for the independent Koch label (the band put out its first two albums on MCA), vocalist and guitarist Zac Maloy (The Nixons' only remaining original member) and bassist Ricky Wolking dispensed with two band members and hired Bush and drummer Ray Luzier.

"Me and Ray make the band a little harder-edged," said the 34-year-old Bush, who demanded a guitar when he saw a KISS commercial and worshipped the likes of Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Randy Rhoads, Eddie Van Halen, Rush's Alex Lifeson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Jimi Hendrix. ("I kept myself too closed-minded," Bush said with a chuckle.)

A harder edge might be a good thing, in many ways. The Nixons' sound on Latest Thing is frequently so pristine that it borders on Smithereens-like guitar pop. Sometimes, like on the head-bobbing "Lifeline," it works wonderfully, but generally Maloy isn't quite emotive enough to pull it off.

The group is more effective in hard-rock mode. Standout rockers include the album's title track and "The One," which kicks off the CD with a rubbery bass, abrupt shifts, and a clever, well-delivered chorus ("It's like I lost you in the sun"). The album's latest single, "Blackout," comes from the three-chord, name-dropping, hand-clapping Weezer universe, and it works.

On the flip side, the acoustic tracks find Maloy in earnest Hootie/Vedder territory, and the quiet is a nice if uninspired counterpoint to the din.

Bush said he's happy playing other people's songs so far. "I really dig the material," he said. "It's hot. I'm having fun playing it." There is one drawback: "I'm not getting any royalties."

And he promised that The Nixons' live show won't be nearly as meditative as the record. "It's just totally chaos on stage," he said.

The Nixons probably won't venture into the studio again until Latest Thing runs its commercial course, but Bush said the new lineup has already begun working on new material. "A month after being together, we've already started writing songs," he said.

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