Since Rob Zombie took up the writer/director role, his first musical career has been more or less tossed onto the proverbial backburner. After all, his film output has been very consistent, and yet this is his first album in four years, following up one that came five years after its predecessor. Not to mention that while 2001's The Sinister Urge benefited a lot from Zombie toying with his sound, he pushed it a bit too far on his third full length, Educated Horses, and it resulted in a watered down, unsatisfying mess. Here, however, he's reinvigorated his sound by simply restoring a lot of the elements from his solo debut, Hellbilly Deluxe (hence the title Hellbilly Deluxe 2). He's still kept a lot of the ideas he's picked up from his last two efforts though, and much like on The Sinister Urge, the mix works out very well, only here it's actually better.
Hellbilly Deluxe 2 sets right out of its gate with Jesus Frankenstein, driven by that industrial stomp he's known for, but the verses have a strange (and very welcome) reminiscence to La Sexorcisto era White Zombie, due largely to the slightly more complex guitar work, courtesy of John 5. Sick Bubble-Gum keeps the album's startling energy going strong with one of Zombie's trademark cheesy horror movie samples, an aggressive, processed riff, and of course his obligatory "MuthaFUCKAH YEEAAAHHH," which naturally makes up a big chunk of the chorus.
After a very refreshing start, Mars Needs Women settles in with its gypsy hard rock intro (which I'm sure will have more than a few people tempted to bust out Extreme's Hole Hearted), which shows a lot of the dimension Zombie explored on Urge and Horses. It gives way quickly though, and the song explodes with basically what makes a typical Rob Zombie song work so well - a blasting beat, a heavy industrial groove, and a fist-pumping melody boasting awesomely absurd lyrics. Speaking of which, the song titles are unabashedly Zombie-esque; I know I'm not the only one who heard Werewolf Women of the SS and remembered how badly I secretly wanted to see the Grindhouse trailer made into a deliberate B movie of its own. Seriously, I mean it couldn't be any worse than Machete.
In the middle there are a few missteps, namely Werewolf Baby!'s blandness and Death and Destiny Inside the Dream Factory's gimmicky sound, and then there's the completely unnecessary four minute drumline bit towards the end of closer The Man Who Laughs, which ends only to erupt back into the chorus; because apparently four minutes just wasn't long enough. Still, What? is a fun, short and sweet single, and part of what makes the middle lag is not so much that the songs in question are bad; it's just that Virgin Witch's blues-meets-industrial vibe and especially the powerful Burn, which slightly resembles a faster Living Dead Girl, are too strong to be placed among mediocre tracks without making them look a lot less impressive.
For all its problems, Rob Zombie has released a rather consistent and damned entertaining record. The best thing about Hellbilly Deluxe 2 is not so much that he seems to have realized that the experimentation became more to his detriment, but that he's regained his songwriting balance. Just as on the first Hellbilly record, Zombie has crafted a wonderfully sinister mood, but with the campiness still well in mind. No, it's not as good as his solo debut, but it's close, and with him hinting at this being his final physical CD release, it's a great note to go out on.