To the Faithful Departed
There's a fine line between a distinctive voice and an annoying voice, and Dolores O'Riordan is on the wrong side of that line. Following in the footsteps of prime-time Stevie Nicks, whose singing recalls the bleating of a herd of sheep in an especially agitated mood ("Rhia-a-a-a-a-a-a-nnon!"), O'Riordan channels a wide variety of the earth's beasts. Sometimes, as during the introduction to "Forever Yellow Skies," she lets go with a water fowl's mating call. And she's equally adept at meowing, as she proves in the wordless portion of the painfully obvious "I Shot John Lennon" (punctuated by gunshots--how profound). Her most frequently employed effect, though, is a burro's bray that calls to mind the animated Pinocchio at the precise moment that a snaky tail bursts through the seat of his pants. On "Salvation" (or should I say, "Sal-VAAAAAAA-tion"), she pounds at the hook with the single-mindedness of Richard Speck--or perhaps Mr. Ed. The result is a tune that sticks in your cranium no matter how desperately you try to remove it. The other compositions aren't nearly so memorable, in part because their quality doesn't come close to matching their ambition: "I'm Still Remembering," a salute to dead people (JFK and Kurt Cobain among them) that reads like the kind of sensitive high school essays that are the specialty of young women who dot their "i"s with smiley faces, is pretty much par for the course. Faithful is not the VH1-friendly throwaway these guys could have made, and for that I suppose I should be grateful. But after listening to O'Riordan warble an earnest folk song about Bosnia ("When do the saints go marching in?") for five interminable minutes, I'm not.
Charles & Eddie
Charles Pettigrew and Eddie Chacon don't possess an original idea between their two heads, but this NYC-based black/Latino soul duo sure resuscitate some good ones. Wet Willie's "Keep on Smilin'," an entertaining Southern-rock hit, serves as a notable example; the R&B oldie "24-7-365" is another. Likewise, the manner in which the falsetto chorus in "Jealousy" rubs up against Spragga Benz's bullying toast feels unpretentiously secondhand (even though I can't put my finger on the source). Some of you may grumble that the late-night grooves, murmured vocals and indirect lyrics of the so-called original tunes here add up to a Sade record. But the real source of the horn parts and organ chords that decorate these songs is mid-Seventies Al Green--a proud pedigree if ever there was one. As a result, Chocolate Milk hits pleasure spots that are as small as measles but far less painful to scratch.
The material on this Knoxville foursome's debut disc is melodic enough to sound at home between cuts by Toad the Wet Sprocket and Hootie and the Blowfish. Yet Superdrag's style remains idiosyncratic enough to prevent most right-thinking listeners from diving for the radio dial upon hearing it. "Sucked Out" meshes somewhat cryptic verses regarding the commercialization of rock-and-roll dreams with a plaintive refrain ("Who sucked out the feeling?") delivered with a degree of vocal abandon that virtually guarantees it permanent residence in your frontal lobes. For its part, "Destination Ursa Major" combines the tunefulness of the Rembrandts with the power-pop sensibility of Oasis (without, thank God, any hint of the latter band's pompousness). Granted, some tracks work better than others, but there's hardly a dog in the bunch. Give Superdrag a whiff of national exposure, then, and these pups will hunt.
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Looking in the Shadows
Over the course of the past two or three years, oodles of bands from the golden age of punk/new wave have been signed to major-label contracts--and practically all of them have responded to this opportunity by releasing terrible discs and vanishing into the pop-music trivia books again. (The Circle Jerks are back, you say? Not anymore, they're not.) What's most surprising about Looking in the Shadows, then, is simply that it doesn't suck. The early Raincoats material was often atonal and screechy, but that's seldom the case here: Bandleaders Ana da Silva and Gina Birch put their imagistic poetics and fragmentary hooks in a notably tuneful context. There's still a retro sensibility about a significant portion of this material, though, sometimes to its detriment: "Forgotten Words," with its cheap Casiotone whine and tinny arrangement, suggests Siouxsie and the Banshees on a bad day. But "Only Tonight" and "Pretty" are enjoyable pop oddities; "Don't Be Mean" shapes its noise in a dopey and amusing manner; and "Love a Loser," featuring background vocals by Pete Shelley (himself a punk retiree in the midst of a comeback bid), sounds like something with which these four have precious little familiarity--a potential hit. The Raincoats once were legitimately dangerous, and it's something of a pity that Shadows isn't. But the listenability of the album makes it one of the rare reunion platters that deserves to be heard a time or two before it hits the cutout bin.