The Colour and the Shape
Like most of you out there, I figured that the self-titled debut by the Foo Fighters would be on par with a Ringo Starr solo album, so the quality of the disc came as a pleasant surprise. However, the recording's strength meant that Nirvana-drummer-turned-guitar-wielding-frontman Dave Grohl wouldn't get a free ride the second time around--and that's too bad for him, since his latest offering isn't what you'd call a bold step into the future. Although the new disc is Grohl's first with a full band (its predecessor was basically a one-man show), the sound is not appreciably fuller, wilder or more varied; producer Gil Norton, of Pixies fame, gives the cuts a certain radio-friendliness, but that's about all. Worse, too many of the songs merely recapitulate the first Foo. That's not all bad, of course: "Monkey Wrench" may be overly familiar, but it sounds a hell of a lot better on the radio than Toad the Wet Sprocket, and even though "Enough Space" is formulaic (soft/loud, soft/loud), at least it's a pretty entertaining formula. But "My Hero" is a horrendously awkward attempt to deal with Kurt Cobain's self-ventilation in public, "February Stars" is faux-Wilco of a particularly tedious sort, "Everlong" most certainly is, and the concluding number, "New Way Home," is so callow that the couplet "I know these things must bore you/But I can't find another way" seems all too accurate. Colour isn't a catastrophe; in fact, by the rapidly sinking standards of the modern-rock style, it's an above-average release. But those of you who were hoping Grohl would be the man to pick up the mantle of his fallen bandmate would be well-advised to look elsewhere.
Electronica: Techno Nations--Chapter 1
For this compilation, someone dubbed the Warlock has assembled several American and European tracks into a strong, disco/house-identified piece. The fast, four-four disco swish that shoots through the various sound effects on hand distinguishes the rubber-band-bottomed "Speak to Me," by Regis, as well as a handful of breakdowns on other cuts. But what truly sets the Warlock's work apart are the soft-edged keyboard hooks in, for example, Memory Tree's "Dual" and Plantastik's "Land of Zod." These tunes may be relegated to background music for the Weather Channel a decade hence, but for now, they prove that machines need to lay back sometimes, too.
Inaday is filled with the sort of acoustic-based, mellow grooves that characterize Colorado acts ranging from Poco to the Subdudes and the Samples. However, lead singer Kris VanDeWalker and vocalist/violinist Amy Moe help separate this seven-member combo from the pack as a result of their confident harmonies and deep-throated warbling. Likewise, Mike Thompson's drumming, Boulder poster boy Bruce Egbert's bass and the hand percussion of Latin-jazz aficionado Rob Kettelson, aka Herb Greene (what have these kids been smoking?), prevents the music from fully embracing somnambulism. The production is less assured; while competent, it fails to capture the act's live sound. Still, the recording quality is adequate enough to nail Zeut's finely tuned pop sensibilities. "Light of the Moon" is an easy single whose lilting harmonies, courtesy of VanDeWalker and vocalist/accordionist Brian Williams, recall early 10,000 Maniacs, while "Stand Up" features classic riffing from lead guitarist Robert Eldridge that seems to have been included primarily to demonstrate that these folks can rock when the mood strikes them. Overall, Inaday is the ideal soundtrack for kicking back on a warm Front Range afternoon.
Marching to Mars
Here's something the world has been waiting for--famous mediocrity Hagar's thinly veiled response to being fired from Van Halen. On "Little White Lie," he wails, "Little white lie's been around for years/Little white lie's ringing in your ears/It'll turn around, come around back on you/That little white lie's catching up to you"; during "On the Other Hand," he claims, "Came an evil man/He cut off one hand/Now I count my friends on the other hand"; at the start of "Both Sides Now," he reveals that "there's another side to everything." You're right, Sammy, and here it is: You were paid damn well to ruin a decent band. Hope you socked away some of that cash, because the gravy train has crashed.
Son Volt's first album, 1995's Trace, helped set the standard for what quickly became known as Americana: The disc featured a rootsy blend of country and alternative that owed as much to the Flying Burrito Brothers as it did to Nirvana. Lead singer Jay Farrar's often forlorn lyrics worked just as well on tightly arranged, dobro-tinged gems like "Windfall" as they did on "Drown," a tune that bristles with power chords and energy. A couple of ditties on Straightaways follow in this tradition: "Caryatid Easy," the opening track, duplicates the "Drown" formula to good effect, and "Picking Up the Signal" makes excellent driving music. But much of the rest of the recording is dominated by bogged-down, mid-tempo numbers that sound strangely unfinished. This approach appears to have been intentional: Why else would the band unplug its guitars for "Left a Slide" and banish its drummer from "Been Set Free"? Unfortunately, the sounds that result from this experiment in minimalism vary widely in quality; for every "No More Parades," which is as moving and fascinating as Farrar intends, there's a song like "Way Down Watson," in which the singer's stark, mumbled polemics and Faulkneresque tales of Southern woe quickly lose their effectiveness. Straightaways suggests that Son Volt may be on the road to an interesting destination, but the bandmembers have yet to arrive.