Righteous Invasion of Truth
The rub with so much of today's contemporary Christian music isn't its focus on God with a capital G. Good songs can be written about anything--Teen Spirit, girls named "Lump," whatever. No, the problem, simply stated, is this: A majority of the folks operating in this field make music that's infinitely more boring than sin. Not to seem sacrilegious, but Steven Curtis Chapman, Rebecca St. James, Michael W. Smith, Steve Green, Jars of Clay and so many other big sellers are pretty much Jesus-centric imitations of artists who don't deserve imitation in the first place. So praise Carman for at least being defiantly, idiosyncratically weird. Dig this if you will, brothers and sisters: On Righteous Invasion (known by the acronym R.I.O.T.), our main man comes across like a theologically engorged Tom Jones, shouting to the heavens with a fervor that practically cries out for permanent institutionalization. He's a whiter shade of pale, but he fancies himself a rapper--and it's at those moments when he's desperately trying to feel the funk that he's at his most insane. "God Is Exalted" opens the CD with airline sound effects, pounding pseudo-techno beats and Carman rhymes--"We're taking off to a higher level/Where the devil/Don't have power/Cuz Christ be the king/In other words, this be a Jesus thing"--that have about as much street credibility as an episode of Barnaby Jones. Fortunately, though, Carman doesn't realize just how ridiculous the concoction is: His absolute certainty that he's the baddest motherfucker on Jesus's team gives the entire package a burst of loony energy that's utterly beyond, say, DC Talk. Not everything here hits such bizarre peaks, but the title track has the good sense to rip off Parliament/Funkadelic; "My Story" includes the declaration that Our Father in Heaven is "dyno-mite!"; and "7 Ways 2 Praise" comes across like a musical outtake from Young Frankenstein. (The last cut is featured in R.I.O.T., The Movie--Part 2, a videotape in which Carman plays "Chicago policeman Vic Rizzo," who "tests his faith and calls on his own street smarts to confront the enemy.") I probably won't listen to this much, in part because Carman looks exactly as I imagine the anti-Christ will if he ever decides to do his leeches-and-plagues number on us. But his preposterous charisma is just what this genre needs. If you want to convert me, for Christ's sake, don't put me to sleep in the process.
Bringing Down the Horse
In an alternative-rock universe in which the Gin Blossoms and Cracker are deemed worthy of worship, the Jakob Dylan-fronted Wallflowers probably deserve more attention than they're getting. After all, spunky selections such as "The Difference" and "Laughing Out Loud" (both powered by ringing guitars, back-to-basics lyrical hooks and the omnipresent chirp of a Hammond B-3 organ) strike a tuneful balance between old-school rock and Gen-X sensibilities. In addition, "God Don't Make Lonely Girls" addresses a fairly stereotypical peep-show romantic fixation with an unexpected degree of tenderness. But other Dylan compositions don't come off so well. In "One Headlight" and "Angel on My Bike," for instance, the singer affects a world-weary, hard-guy stance that classic-rock forebears Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty wore much more comfortably--and the presence of Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell on several tracks only makes such comparisons more difficult to avoid. On the whole, the Wallflowers deserve a passing grade. They're derivative as hell, but at least they've got the sense to pick good role models.
Tijuana Hit Squad
A lot of acts have tried to reproduce a B-movie on a disc, but few have succeeded as well as the self-declared "scariest band in the world." The players--guitarist/vocalist/Casio-fingerer Harley Davidson, vocalists R.A. MacLean and Coffin Boy, drummers Les Vegas and Mark Davidson, and bassists 3rd Degree Burns and Moose Cutter--suggest the smart-alecky kin of Sam Fuller, Phil Karlsen and Edgar G. Ulmer set loose in a tequila-soaked nightmare world in which all of the gals are vipers and all of the guys wear shades, smoke coffin nails and pack rods that they're not afraid to use. "A Hit Gone Wrong" exemplifies their grimy noir approach: Over a reverb-laden, Link Wray-inspired guitar figure, Davidson tells of drinking with "Jose" in a Mexican bar when a "cute little senorita" pulls out "this little piece-of-crap gun" and tries to kill them. When her gun jams, Jose blasts her with his shotgun ("Blew the back of her ass out"). But even as she lies dead at his feet, the narrator is haunted by her last words: "This one's for Albert!" Of course, our guides explain who Albert is and detail plenty of other victims and victimizers on the way to their just desserts. The specifics of tracks like "The Day I Got My Spine Back" and "Dad, Why Did My Friends Explode" don't matter; it's the pulp that counts, and there's plenty of it here. So get Tijuana Hit Squad now. Before it gets you.
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Dedicated to the One I Love
This CD, a collection of pop standards delivered in lullaby form by the singer to her infant son, must have sounded great on paper. How it sounds on a disc player, though, is another matter entirely. If you can set aside the Oedipal overtones, then songs that were ballads to begin with, such as the title cut and "Angel Baby," aren't too excruciating. But the pablum that Ronstadt makes of once-rocking cuts like the Ronnie Spector classic "Be My Baby" is enough to make even adults want to spit up. And when I heard the singer--who lately appears sufficiently husky to bench-press former duet partner Aaron Neville--apply her supposedly reassuring whisper to Queen's "We Will Rock You," I literally punched my CD's "stop" button in disgust. Next time you check into a recording studio, Linda, check your postpartum hormones at the door.