PLAYLIST

Green Day
Insomniac
(Reprise)

In the press biography sent to reviewers with this CD, flack Ben Weasel (a nom de plume, perhaps?) claims that Insomniac "ISN'T a progression, and that's exactly WHY it's so fucking good. I mean, Christ, if the Ramones coulda just put out a couple more Leave Homes, maybe they'd have gotten the respect they deserved BEFORE they started, in my humble opinion, putting out shit." Well, in my humble opinion, Insomniac isn't half as strong as the Ramones' aforementioned fecal matter for one basic reason: The Ramones invented their sound, while Green Day merely impersonates it. Sure, it's an accurate imitation (Billie Joe, Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool constitute a tight little band capable of churning out nagging hooks and efficacious riffs), but so what? In the wake of pop-punk's breakthrough, there are literally hundreds of groups about which you could say the same, and plenty of them are also on major labels (which, as most of us realize, have the same predilection for mimicry as does Green Day). Moreover, a lot of these other performers have something to say, or they're able to say the same old things in a humorous, outrageous or otherwise distinctive way. Billie Joe, by contrast, has been coasting on dime-store snottiness ever since he emerged from the underbrush, and he's coasting still. Sometimes he can be funny in a fairly obvious and self-conscious way (e.g., "My wallet's fat and so is my head," from "Walking Contradiction"), but more often he settles for slacker stereotypes of the sort that fill "Brat," "Geek Stink Breath," "No Pride" and the rest. And while there are a few differences between the sound of Insomniac and its predecessor, the multiplatinum Dookie, they are so minor as to be almost entirely insignificant. In other words, this is product, dudes--bogus rebellion made safe for corporate distribution (and, at a length of less than 33 minutes, not exactly a bargain). That may not bother Mr. Weasel, who is, after all, part of the factory apparatus, and maybe it shouldn't bother the rest of us. I mean, given the choice between this and, say, Blues Traveler, I'd take this every damn time. But I'd also keep looking for something better.--Michael Roberts

Simon Bonney
Everyman
(Mute)

If Morrissey were to write a soundtrack for a spaghetti Western, this is probably what it would sound like--yet Bonney's shimmering arrangements and quavering tenor also recall the best work of hopeless romantic Willy DeVille. As these descriptions imply, however, the album isn't brimming with commercial potential: "Don't Walk Away From Love," which is the closest thing this disc offers to radio-friendly hit fare, isn't all that close, while "A White Suit in Memphis" and "Ruby" stake out fatalistic territory into which few listeners may follow. Furthermore, Bonney's decision to revisit the Everyman theme referred to in the CD's title a total of six times is bound to strike some listeners as pretentious. But overall, the album's crisp guitar work and consistency of tone tend to speak eloquently for themselves.--John Jesitus

Spain
The Blue Moods of Spain
(Restless)

No, it's not what you'd call an oversized surprise when the sons or daughters of famous musicians go into the music business--nor is it startling that so many of them land recording contracts of their own (feel free to laugh in the face of anyone who tells you that celebrity offspring have a harder time making it than do their anonymous peers). However, most of these youngsters fail to match the achievements of their folks, in part because they set out to produce sounds that are so similar to those associated with Ma or Pa. So congratulations to Josh Haden (son of jazz bassist Charlie Haden) for taking the uncommon step of creating a work that's so unlike any associated with the man whose genetic makeup he shares. In fact, the music made by Spain--Haden on bass and vocals, Ken Boudakian on guitar and organ, Merlo Podlewski on guitar and Evan Hartzell on drums, plus a guest appearance by Josh's sister, Petra Haden, leader of the band known as that dog--has precious little in common with jazz; improvisation is kept to a minimum, and when solo space is allotted (as in "Untitled #1," which concludes with a modest guitar workout), the playing fits snugly within a blues/rock context. Not that this CD rocks in the standard sense. The tempos that characterize most of these languorous compositions make Mazzy Star seem like a speed-metal merchant by comparison. Haden's hushed, unaffected vocals buzz and hum pleasantly as he lingers over each syllable of his lyrics; as a result, the line "I forget that you are my only friend" (from "Ten Nights") takes approximately three times as long to hear as it just took you to read. This approach is enhanced by precise, exceedingly nimble and tasteful playing that's as atmospheric as it is seductive. The mood is certainly blue, but it's also undeniably gorgeous. No doubt Charlie is very proud.--Roberts

 
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