Belly to Belly
A recent Rolling Stone article declaring the return of Eighties-vintage hair metal probably left many readers wishing that the government would set up a hard-rock subsidy program similar to the ones that pay farmers not to grow any crops. But members of the prime hair-metal demographic (comic-book-store clerks, Burger World employees and pizza-delivery guys) likely view the prospect with considerably less jaundiced eyes. And who can blame them? After all, anything's better than looking at Marilyn Manson--even if the alternative is a guy with a perm and tight leather pants. Too bad that this trio of flashbacks from CMC International, the record-label equivalent of the Hair Club for Men, fail to generate the testosterone-laden vibe of the genre at its best. Slaughter comes the closest to recapitulating the formula: Revolution features over-arching battle-between-Good-and-Evil tunes ("Heaven It Cries"), token calls for rebellion (the title track) and federally mandated ballad/prom themes ("Can't We Find a Way"), as well as examples of obsequious pandering to lustful teens ("Tongue in Groove," "Stuck on You") and misunderstood-loner ditties ("I'm Gone," "Hard to Say Good-Bye") great for anyone who regularly gets beat up during gym class. As for "You're My Everything," it is, of all things, a pretty good song that rocks along nicely on the strength of some charmingly overblown harmonies. Had it been issued in 1984, it would have spawned a groupie-filled video just perfect for MTV. Instead, it's the one standout in a collection marked by surprisingly staid music and self-parodic lyrics replete with the usual spelling errors. By comparison, Warrant's Belly to Belly rocks harder: Witness the kick-ass guitar throughout "In the End (There's Nothing)" and the growling riffs that highlight the isolation tale "Feels Good." But rather than sticking to the tried and true, Warrant makes the mistake of trying to seem relevant. The vocals on nearly every track are distorted--an inexcusable breach of the hair-metal tradition--and the Trent Reznor-style self-loathing on "Falling Down" and "Solid" is downright lame. The nadir is "Angry Young Man," an imitation Surge commercial that includes the lines "Generation X/We are complex/Angst is the perfect wave." Yeah, sure, Dad. Thankfully, Dokken avoids such gaffes--but it doesn't replace them with anything else. Shadowlife, the combo's latest album, lacks identity: It's neither a blatant nod to the Eighties à la Revolution nor an obvious attempt to co-opt the Nineties, like Belly. Songs such as "Sky Beneath My Feet" and "Until I Know" are sluggish, mid-tempo drivel that don't even acknowledge the hair-metal scene from which Dokken sprang, while other ditties merely rip off successful hardcore outfits; "Here I Stand" is dimestore Soundgarden, "Puppet on a String" might well inspire Tool to sue for copyright infringement, and "Cracks in the Ground" mimics everyone and no one at exactly the same time. The inclusion of bongo drums on the abysmal "Convenience Store Messiah" confirms that the band's age is indeed a factor. Clearly, senility has already set in.
The Rough and the Smooth
Matt Cooper, whose acid-jazzy project this is, reminds me of Bill Laswell, the man behind Material: Both artists make it their business to create struggle out of simple background music. As a result, the album's Rough alto sax and Eastern-European-tinged violin (played by Greg Osby and Lili Hayden, respectively) practically snap their fingers in your ear even as Cooper's Smooth keyboards round off your corners. With the exception of "Moodswing," a seven-minutes-plus track that sports filtered vocals and beeping car horns, the lyrics are generally weak, as befits singers Origin and Ike Oblamine. It's fortunate, then, that the two Cooper compositions with Holocaust themes are instrumentals, since the bland, new-agey warmth of the vocalists would have robbed the words of their force. At least Laswell generally sticks to rappers.
Jack Kevorkian + Morpheus Quintet
A Very Still Life
Even many of those who fervently believe in the right-to-die movement have been distressed at times by the showboating of Kevorkian, and this exercise in somnambulism won't cause them to reconsider. The jokey title and the cover shot of the skeletal doctor aside, this is essentially a series of lite-jazz fragments played with lazy skill by a handful of musicians (trumpeter Elliott Caine, bassist Stephen Heidlmann, drummer Willie McNeil, pianist Jean Paul Monsche and saxophonist/flutist Jay Work) who seemingly view Kevorkian's suicide machine not as a symbol of the changes that must be made in our medical system, but as a useful publicity device. Kevorkian is listed as the composer of all but one track (a dubious claim), and he contributes amateurish organ- and flute-playing to songs that aren't that interesting in the first place. In the long run, the disc may cost Kevorkian work, because if you listen to it long enough, you could wind up bored to death.