As a performing unit, Athens, Georgia’s Harvey Milk — named, of course, after the assassinated gay San Francisco politician — is harder to pigeonhole than a jacked-up sugar freak having an epileptic seizure. You wouldn’t expect a band that can do entire sets of either Hank Williams or REM to play original material more aligned with Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and AC/DC, but then again, therein lies the Milk’s singular charm. On My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be, guitarist Creston, bassist Steven Tanner (formerly of Atlanta’s Seersucker) and drummer Paul Trudeau offer nearly an hour of intricately laid out sludge. Sung as if Tom Waits brushed his teeth with hot tar on a daily basis, Creston’s bittersweet lyrics wrap passionate and heartfelt depth around a 20-pound sledgehammer. Sultry as a summer night in a blood-splattered abattoir.
The sparse, nearly minimalist arrangements led by pianos and crashing rhythms on Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men threaten to implode throughout the vinyl-only album’s four sides. On the final side, the cover of Leonard Cohen’s “One of Us Cannot Be Wrong” provides a soothing wet towel for the forehead before the record returns to uncharted, decidedly more abstract territory.
In 1996, only a few months after recording Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, Trudeau was replaced by Kyle Spence (formerly of The Martians and Fiddlehead). The band’s songwriting also underwent a change. The Pleaser is, start-to-finish, a rock and roll album. No more of the silence that was used so lovingly on the two previous albums. The trio’s affection for Zeppelin and Kiss, which had been conjured only abstractly in the past, takes center stage and refuses to leave (a good thing). But that relegates dynamic variety and lyrical content to the back seat. Spence’s take on John Bonham paces the band’s embracer of all things heavy and ’70s, and the album grooves mightily, all the way to “Rock And Roll Party Tonight,” the clenched-fist anthem that ends it.