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The Rockfords

Step off, Eddie Vedder. And Stone Gossard -- you might as well be Stone Phillips this go-around.

Mike McCready, lead guitarist for Seattle's Pearl Jam, has assembled some childhood pals to eke out a dozen James Garner-influenced songs about angels and bad relationships. Let us weep openly, my baggy, flanneled brethren, for today's keepers of the amplified twaddle have lost their way. Let us blubber without shame for the once-mighty stomping ground of Hendrix and Cobain, where the gods of music reigned much too briefly in fog-bound majesty, where legends are now repackaged in the daily grind like so much overpriced Starbucks biscotti.

This dismal throwback to vanilla-flavored guitar muscularity and alt-rock alienation sounds as dated as the rasp of a Volkswagen Thing -- and about a tenth as sincere. McCready filters his knack for self-pity through the lead vocals of ex-Goodness warbler Carrie Akre and all the lazy gyrations of toddler grunge. Other than pristine production by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney) and a few shining guitar shootouts between McCready and his grade-school chum Danny Newcomb, the Rockfords do little but beg, borrow and steal from the sticky Big Chief tablet of pre-adolescent angst. "I know you loved me/Back when we were friends/Back when I was cool/Before I broke some rule," Akre sobs on the album's lackluster single "Silver Lining," wearing down her angry pink Crayola to a nub. (Liz Phair wrote better songs in kindergarten, for crushsake). Somehow this mopefest landed a spot on the soundtrack of Down to You, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. -- as if that were something to crow about. "Sure Shot" is the can't-miss rocker of the disc; with pillow talk like "I'll give you something to cry about," the tune conjures more than a bruise from Chrissie Hynde's school of hard knocks -- only in Hynde's case, the threat would sound halfway enticing. Even a guest appearance by Heartthrob Nancy Wilson can't float this big-label exercise in irrelevance. Her Ladyship's wiccan refreshment dips from magical waters on "Riverwide" ("You can't hold the river down," she trills most deliciously) -- but it's just more predictable tear-jerking for the pasty and beleaguered children of Seattle.

Do yourself a favor, grungelings. Save your pennies for Mudhoney's latest. Or treat yourself to some of the sick throbbings of TAD's back catalogue: Songs about woods goblins and stuffed pork chops are perfectly suitable rainy-day fare. Really.

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John La Briola

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