Follow the Leader
The words dispensed here by Korn singer Jonathan Davis are as disturbing as ever: Imagine having to wrap barbed wire around your feet to get better traction on a snowy day and you'll have an idea of what picking your way through them is like. But the approach of this hardcore hybrid would be a lot more effective if it had an extra dimension or two. The line "Nothing changes/Just rearranges this time for me" (from the opening salvo, "It's On!") nearly sums up the record in both a lyrical and a musical sense.
Follow the Leader is Korn's most produced long-player to date, due in part to Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine), who did the final mixing of the album, and the players occasionally use his skills to their advantage. On "Seed," the disc's best song, they create murky aural layers that go beyond anything they've previously attempted. Add cut-in scratching and some strong (and very amusing) Steven Tyler-like scatting by Davis, and you wind up with a successful musical experiment that bodes well for the future. Elsewhere, "Dead Bodies Everywhere," a remarkable song that suggests a rock-a-bye gone terribly wrong, continues the band's tradition of incorporating odd sound bites into its already ultra-heavy sound, and "Got the Life" provides an infectious chorus and a groovy disco high-hat that rides through the entire number. (Does the latter indicate musical progression or orders from Epic to provide a radio cut? Hard to tell.) Even the bagpipes are back, blended into the opening riff of "My Gift to You."
Considerably more inexplicable is the presence of four guest artists, three of whom contribute to the weakest songs on the record. (The Pharcyde's Tre Hardson is responsible for the one cameo that works; he lays down a smooth rap over "Cameltosis.") Cheech Marin, apparently taking a break from Nash Bridges to try to relive the Seventies, shows up on "Earache My Eye," a cover of an old Cheech and Chong rock parody that wastes six minutes of our time. Just as dreadful is "Children of the Korn," in which Ice Cube delivers rhymed cliches ("Catch me if you can/Fuck the law, with my dick in my hand/I'm comin' through") that constitute punishment nearly as bad as his movies. Finally, there's "All in the Family," a round of musical dozens between Davis and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst that's the disc's poorest and most harmful effort. A song vaguely reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me Whitey, Nigger," which was later covered by Jane's Addiction and Ice-T, "Family" frustratingly boils down to who can tell whom most loudly to suck his cock. What makes this even worse is that Korn has made positive statements regarding the acceptance of homosexuality ever since "Faget," on its first album. Davis and company contradict nearly every point they've made on the subject in a single track.
Musically, padding is the issue. Almost every cut begins with a thirty-seconds-plus introduction before getting to the lyrical business at hand--a habit that quickly becomes repetitive. And despite signs of songwriting development, the album as a whole is just too long; the band more or less runs out of stimulating ideas midway through the more than seventy minutes of Leader. That's too much for a one-trick pony to overcome, no matter how well the pony performs its one trick.
I refuse to be deeply impressed by a David Murray project that falters when he isn't playing, but Murray's lack of ego is still amazing. Going beyond his supporting role on Fo'deuk Revue, released a few months back, he just plain disappears into this album, which is centered around guitarist Gerard Lockel. Described as a "creolization" of Caribbean and African music, the disc has a unique rhythmic power best exemplified by "Gansavn'n," a ten-minute showcase for flutists James Newton and Max Cilla that's built atop a two-chord change played on a double bass and Klod Kiavue's talking drums. The other rhythms on the album rock, the piano breaks jolt, and the sidemen offer sharp interpretations of Lockel's ideas. But the tunes are just okay, and the novelty of Creole's sound is wearying, because Lockel overworks the flute business and employs singers who add color but little else. Despite his name-above-the-title status, Murray delivers only two pieces--a workout called "Mona" and a guitar/tenor sax duet (improvisation?) that isn't worth a shit. But Murray upstages his collaborators anyway: The skittishness of his tenor sax and bass clarinet rile up the sound whenever I start to tune out.
Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
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If singing about past demons, haunted memories and tragic loves doesn't help soothe Lucinda Williams's soul, it sure makes for a damn good record. Armed with a cadre of electric guitars--some of them plucked by Steve Earle and Charlie Sexton--Williams fires round after round at the ghosts of her past. "Right in Time" is one of the most sensual unrequited-love songs ever recorded, thanks to the mix of Williams's gritty voice and the kind of rocking Texas country that revs up at just the right moments--that is, before the singer completely bares her soul. Elsewhere, she yodels like Hank Williams on "Concrete and Barbed Wire" and romps playfully through the shuffling country blues of "Can't Let Go." And next to the real-life vividness of "2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten" and "Drunken Angel," John Cougar Mellancamp's "Jack and Diane" sounds like candy floss.
The title track, in which Williams travels the dirt roads of Georgia and Mississippi during the 1940s, establishes a theme that echoes across the blue highways of Louisiana she visits in "Lake Charles" and "Joy." As for "Jackson," it finds Williams driving in endless circles all across the South, trying to escape from her memories. The winsome soundtrack inspired by these journeys can't help but make you eager to hear her next reports from the road.