Kicked in the Teeth
You know rock and roll is in sad shape when Smashing Pumpkins takes home a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Album. After all, the hardest thing about that pack of whiners is Billy Corgan's bald, pointy noggin. But fear not, heathens: Seattle's Zeke is here to save the day. Kicked in the Teeth is a chunk of gear-grindin', muscle-flexin' punk rawk that proves there's still plenty of room in the world for dangerous, hell-bent freaks. Granted, there's nothing particularly innovative going on here; the MC5, AC/DC and the Dwarves all charted similar territory in their day. But most of those guys are either dead or too old to care anymore. Zeke, on the other hand, has plenty of tread left on its slicks. "God of GSXR," "Dogfight" and "Mert" outstrip anything on the most recent Motsrhead record, and the anthemic "Twisted" ("Twisted on my '69/I'm in love with my '69") is the best sex/hot-rods double entendre since the Didjits raved about their "hornet pinatas" a decade ago. And although "Shout It Out Loud," the band's remake of the old KISS standard, is the weakest track here, it doesn't falter for a lack of trying; singer/guitarist Blind Marky Felchtone squeezes everything he can out of the ditty, but halfway through, it becomes embarrassingly apparent that the tune isn't strong enough to stand up to the abuse these sinful sorts dish out. Much cooler is "Revolution Reprise," Zeke's own Nineties-style riff riot. "It's five seconds to revolution!" Felchtone testifies during the song's refrain. Whether he's talking about a fist to the face, a bat to the skull or a shot from his amplifier is irrelevant. The important thing is, he means it.
This is the first decent Technomancer release in four years, because it's more organic (the beats move at the pace of humanity) and catchier (several memorable synthesizer themes are included) than its arrogantly hyper-speeding predecessor. But what really sets it apart is "Vibrations," a four-line sermonette by Vibration that begins with the line "Everybody's looking for a meaning" and ends with "Nobody's helping each other." This kind of moralizing is normally as welcome on a techno/jungle record as a tollbooth on a motocross track, which is why we've never before heard such a thing. But the words and the dry, slightly disgusted female voice singing them put a new chill into electronic dance music's customarily cold heart. It's capable of spoiling the mood on MTV's Amp. And that's a good thing.
Yikes: We're not even through with the Nineties yet, and Eighties retro bands are starting to sprout up. Babybird overdoes this shtick with a sixty-minutes-plus release that recalls some of the best moments of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, Tears for Fears and a-ha in the worst possible ways. "You're Gorgeous" harks back to the unusual sort of dance song that Right Said Fred nailed with "I'm Too Sexy." But Ugly Beautiful includes several more ringing, jingling, anti-Morrissey songs by Stephen Jones (Babybird's heart) that might as well be called "You're Gorgeous," too. If "Jesus Is My Girlfriend" were an outtake on a The The record, it would be forgivable, but Jones hasn't earned enough goodwill at this point to overlook the way he destroys an interestingly dark groove with a yodeling chorus so bad that any other record producer would have quit on the spot. Maybe that's why Jones produced the thing himself.
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Pianist, Arranger, Composer, Conductor
Folks on the lunatic fringe have been jabbering for a while now about the millennium and how its approach will cause disruptions to ripple through society's fabric--and in the past, I laughed off these warnings as fuzzy-headed hysteria and left it at that. But after listening to this CD, I'm beginning to wonder if they might be right. I mean, what the bloody hell is going on in this world when Richard Carpenter, who with his sister Karen foisted some of the most cloying songs of the Seventies on the public at large, is treated like Mozart? Okay, the guy did write some catchy tunes (catchy like the chicken flu), and he was responsible for moving a lot of product for A&M, the company behind this latest offering. But is that any excuse for giving the disc a title that's as pretentious as William F. Buckley? After all, the only thing more ridiculous than the juxtaposition of "Flat Baroque," a symphonic stab that makes Paul McCartney seem like Arturo Toscanini by comparison, with a Muzak-ready version of "Bless the Beasts and the Children" is "Medley," in which "Sing," "Look to Your Dreams" and "Superstar" masquerade as timeless classics. It's all quite laughable, or at least it would be if you and I didn't know that there are bazillions of people out there (including plenty of critics who've gone soft with age) who think that Carpenter has never truly been given his due and that his work as (all together now) a pianist, an arranger, a composer and a conductor deserves to be championed. Well, it doesn't, ladies and gents. It was shlock then, and no matter how much it's dressed up, shlock it remains--unless, that is, the space-time continuum is so out of whack that everything that stank suddenly smells like a begonia in springtime, and vice versa. In which case I was wondering: Do you think there's any more room in Marshall Applewhite's spaceship? Because if Richard Carpenter is a genius, I think it's about time to get off this rock.