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Little Steven

A pulsating platter of cock rock with a conscience, Little Steven's latest is a sometimes glorious study in self-indulgence. From the left-wing political sentiments that the prodigal E Street Band member wears on his now-tie-dyed sleeve to the impassioned, if technically unimpressive, string-bending that stretches many of the tunes well past the five-minute mark, this collection makes it clear that, if nothing else, the artist is unafraid to take chances. How handsomely the risk-taking pays off, however, is debatable. On the plus side, the most satisfying cuts herein, "Salvation" and "Flesheater," deliver anthemic choruses over arena-rock riffs so rousing that AC/DC's Angus Young will wish he'd thought of them. (Okay, he probably did, but why nitpick?) Almost equally satisfying is the title selection, a sprawling manifesto that decries organized religion's hypocrisy. In a somewhat similar fashion, "Camouflage of Righteousness" and the self-explanatory "Guns, Drugs and Gasoline" wed punk-influenced vocal sensibilities with power-chord progressions that could make Ray Davies drool. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is hardly worth a spit. Despite their defiant tone and occasional moments of Cult-like instrumental grandeur, "Face of God," "Saint Francis" and "Lust for Enlightenment" suffer from a moralistic bent that's about as uplifting as a pair of cement shoes. The kicker, though, is "Tongues of Angels," a more-than-seven-minute dirge whose humorlessness renders it virtually unlistenable. Sure, Little Steven's always had an ax to grind, lyrically speaking. And I'd be pissed, too, if I had to share the stage with a non-entity like Nils Lofgren, as Steven's currently doing on the E Streeters' reunion tour. But there's a line between passion and preachiness. And too often on this release, Little Steven stomps all over it.

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