Grand Champeen is a Rock Band, but not another overhyped male-model "band that will save rock" du jour. Instead, the Austin quartet offers, in Battle Cry for Help, a lean and sweat-drenched 39-minute appeal to the idea that rock and roll is so much more than noise-pollution, that rock and roll is just rock and roll. Which is to say that it's something your life could potentially be saved by; Battle Cry for Help paints a portrait of a band in tireless quest for the Perfect Rock Song, something they've glimpsed - as if in a dream - in the classic-rock canon literally laid out in their song "Broken Records:" "Let It Be, Let It Bleed, On the Beach, The Gilded Palace of Sin, Heaven Tonight and the Kids Are Alright."
Head songwriter Channing Lewis could also have easily added to "Broken Records"' litany Clam Dip and Other Delights and the other Let It Be, because there's no mistaking, in Battle Cry for Help's haggard shouts and hard-rock crunch, the echoes of early Midwestern college rock. Like the Replacements and their contemporaries, Grand Champeen revere classic rock and roll for the songwriting, not for the kitschy grandiosity of the rock-star posture. Duly, they spend their time - time that could otherwise be spent picking out candy-striped outfits - worshipping at the feet of melody and composition. And it pays off: at its best moments, Battle Cry for Help flows like the B side of Abbey Road if it were back-to-back "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"s.
Lewis formed his first band with guitarist Michael Crow and drummer Ned Stewart when the three were in high school. Shortly after graduation, the band recorded an early album featuring fIREHOSE guitarist Ed Crawford. They spent time in both Chapel Hill and Colorado before moving to Austin, christening themselves Grand Champeen, and self-releasing their debut Out Front by the Van shortly before drafting bassist Alex Livingstone. Texas left its mark on the band - traces of dusty Southwestern pedal-steel and and rat-a-tat-tat rhythms crop up on Battle Cry, which features guest appearances by Amy Boone, Deborah Kelly, and Rob Bernard from Austin alt.country comers Damnations, TX - but early encounters with the twangier side of Austin's indie scene largely steeled the group's resolve to steep their songs in the strident riffage and pummeling rhythms of rock. "Cottonmouth," therefore, skitters over a bedrock of ebullient power-pop before careening out of control like the crashing car it describes. "Prince Albert" wraps its head-on attack around a tender story of the vulnerability of age ("he was laughing so hard / I thought he might bust the stitches in his heart"), and, just when you think things might be getting too touchy-feely, the band uncorks the exuberant wankery of "Nothin' on Me," which could easily pass as the work of Yngwie Malmsteen's excitable kid brother.
Grand Champeen loves rock and roll, and Battle Cry for Help, if it could be said to be about anything (though the last thing these guys would do is make a concept album), is about how it feels to be someone who loves rock and roll. These songs' lovable losers stagger through life loving rock and roll, picking up their precious scattered records and stumbling on to the next couch to crash on or the next show to catch, openly aware that whatever intense emotional situation they're in, it's already been described in a great rock song, vaguely aware, even, that they're living in songs themselves. They walk to shows and stand enraptured during "the last chorus, / harmonies drifting over us," they look through old records like they're a picture book, they drop off to sleep and dream of songs that leave them when they wake up, crying "I can't believe you're going!" And then they strap on guitars and try to get those songs back, hacking through power chords, thrilled to be playing in a rock and roll band.