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Paul Westerberg
Eventually
(Reprise)

You've got to feel bad for Westerberg. As the mouth behind the Replacements, the man practically invented what's now known as alternative rock, but pretty much the only thing he got for this achievement was critical acclaim--and we all know how much that contributes to your bank balance. Then, as the Replacements wound down and Westerberg's solo career got off to a tortoise-like start, even the press started turning on him. (He regularly received polite praise--worse, in many ways, than being told that he sucked.) Finally, to make his ignominy complete, the Goo Goo Dolls recently broke through to the upper reaches of the sales charts with "Name," which sounds more like Westerberg than Westerberg does anymore. It's easy to see the title of the singer's latest stab at duplicating the Dolls' feat as a comment about his current predicament: He'll get what he deserves eventually. But if this comes to pass, it won't be because Westerberg is regularly scaling the artistic peaks that he once stumbled over with such sloppy, heavenly ease. The arrangements here are notably tidy, and so is Westerberg's singing; at the beginning of "These Are the Days," the disc's lead track, his voice sounds so on-pitch and lacking in scratchiness that it's hard to believe it's even him. Likewise, his attempts to convey playfulness--as on "Ain't Got Me," a Sixties-pop tribute--seem a touch self-conscious, while the occasional Replacements-like throw-down (notably, "You've Had It With You" and "Trumpet Clip," featuring ex-'Mat Tommy Stinson on bass and trombone) come across like pleasant recapitulations of something that once came naturally to him but no longer does. He's still as literate as he can be, and with the exception of the words that make up "Mamadaddydid," which are disagreeably reminiscent of those in Harry Chapin's "Cats in the Cradle," his lyrics stand up to repeated listenings. His melodies, too, are sturdy and attractive. But no matter how you slice it, the most you can say about Eventually is that it deserves polite praise. Sorry.--Michael Roberts

New Wet Kojak
New Wet Kojak
(Touch and Go)

Meet Girls Against Boys' sleazy second cousin. On New Wet Kojak, guitarist Scott McCloud and bassist Johnny Temple, both GVSB members, extricate certain pleasures that get lost in the democratic squall of their primary band and shove them to the front--or, perhaps more appropriately, to the back--of a seamy theater of their own design. Meanwhile, guest musicians like ex-Gray Matter guitarist Geoff Turner, Shudder to Think's Nathan Larson, onetime Edsel drummer Nick Pellicciotto and the mysterious Queen Dynasty (whose crooning on the brilliant "Me Acuerdo de Ti" recalls Nico's contributions to the Velvet Underground) take turns wrapping their goods around Temple's insinuating bass lines even as Charles Bennington's sax riffs charm the snake right out of your basket. McCloud supplies thin layers of acoustic guitar and the occasional crescendo of electrical fuzz here, but his voice, supplemented by Temple's rhythm tracks, make New Wet Kojak what it is: a blue movie that threatens to become a snuff film at all the right moments. In Girls Against Boys, the hostility of McCloud's singing overshadows its seductive edge, whereas in this side project, the ratio is reversed: His vocals approach a listener from behind, and at spine-tinglingly close range, like those of Tinderstick's Stuart Staples. Unlike the creepy Staples, however, McCloud's intimate mumble transmutes into malice rather than despair. On "Shake You Down," he repeats, "You been on my mind," before spitting, "And frankly, it's been fucking with my style." Don't play this on a first date.--Amy Kiser

Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Brian Kehew
The Moog Cookbook
(Restless)

Pop-cultural efforts to peer into the future date quicker than Julia Roberts after a trial separation. Look at any random episode of Lost in Space, Space: 1999 and The Jetsons, for that matter, and you'll quickly discover that most visions of the world of tomorrow look a lot like the world of today, except with sillier clothes and a lot of racing fins. From a sound perspective, the Moog keyboard was supposed to be forward-looking, too; Sixties Moog albums frequently sported sci-fi covers and song titles that nodded to interstellar travel, contact with alien life forms and Apollo rockets. But what was once far out is now camp--and this goof of an album aims to capitalize on that fact. The brainchild of Brian Kehew and Roger Manning (formerly with Jellyfish, now a part of Imperial Drag), The Moog Cookbook is a collection of modern-rock favorites put through the primitive-synthesizer grinder. "Basket Case," from the Green Day songbook, becomes a collection of burps and bubbles that keeps threatening to turn into the Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together"; the vocoder-friendly Offspring cover "Come Out and Play" is psychically merged with Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" and (inevitably) "Also Sprach Zarathustra"; and Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" sounds like a Tangerine Dream soundscape after mating with a game of Pong. Okay, the gag grows thin after a while, but who cares? The Moog Cookbook may not stay with you for long, but it's perfect as a tasty light snack. Make mine a Space Food Stick.--Roberts

 
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