- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

STEREOLAB
Sound-Dust
(Elektra Records)
Listening to one Stereolab album often can be like hearing any other, which makes it surprising the band doesn't try harder to break from its formulaic mold. Stereolab certainly would be hard-pressed to top the back-to-back releases of the band's classic "Emperor Tomato Ketchup" in 1996 and "Dots and Loops" in 1997, two different albums that perfectly encapsulated the Stereolab sound.
"Sound-Dust," the group's eighth full album, fails to come close to outclassing those earlier releases. At its best, the band combines the airy melodies of 1960s pop with avant-garde jazz sensibilities, making it hard not to hum along even as Stereolab experiments with obscure instruments, countermelodies and balancing harmonies. At its worst, it veers so far into the experimental realm that the music is interesting, but not good.
"Sound-Dust" probably is not the most accessible of the band's releases. The opening instrumental track, "Black Ants in Sound," sounds more like German experimental techno (and the duo Mouse on Mars do that far better).
But the second track, "Space Moth," clocking in at nearly eight minutes, shows the band at its best. The piece starts off with a creepy, synthesizer melody; veers off into the realm of a science-fiction movie soundtrack; and then locks into a lounge groove that makes one forget all about the earlier strangeness.
The downside is that the consistent, languid pace of "Sound-Dust" wears a bit thin after more than a hour's worth of listening. While the record may be full of beautiful moments, none stands out from the band's earlier work. Derek Simmonsen

MARTINa MCBRIDE
Greatest Hits
(RCA Records)
Fans may wonder why Miss McBride is releasing a greatest-hits album so soon in her career, but this popular country music performer has been on the music scene for 10 years.
The album features her first hit song, "My Baby Loves Me." It also includes "Life #9," which is about a woman and her wandering guy; "Independence Day," concerning domestic violence; "A Broken Wing," about a woman facing emotional abuse; and the always sentimental favorite "Valentine," with Jim Brickman, which focuses on finding that perfect someone. Others are "I Love You" and "There You Are," which were on the movie soundtracks for "Runaway Bride" and "Where the Heart Is," respectively.
This 19-track album contains 15 songs from Miss McBride's past six albums and four unreleased tunes although I've often wondered how an artist could put new or previously unreleased songs on a greatest-hits album. Even so, fans of Miss McBride will enjoy hearing their favorite songs again. Amy Baskerville

SPIRITUALIZED
Let It Come Down
(Arista Records)
Jason Pierce, the brains behind the rock-meets-spacey electronica band Spiritualized, may have fired the rest of the band, but he's not lacking for musicians. "Let It Come Down" trades the more intimate feel that comes from the group's classic records "Lazer Guided Melodies" and "Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space" for a production that sounds like a gospel choir tackling a rave in outer space.
That's thanks to the more than 100 musicians and singers who helped turn what's essentially a one-man show into a traveling revival. The opening track "On Fire" breaks the hypnotic feel of earlier Spiritualized albums for a piano-tickling melody that ends with a large chorus backing up Mr. Pierce's scratchy, but sincere chorus of "Let it all come down."
The band always has wavered between the trippy atmospherics of techno and the full-on, psychedelic rock of Brit-pop, but this time rock wins out.
Songs such as "The Twelve Steps" are harsh bursts of distorted guitars and British snarl, while "I Didn't Mean to Hurt You" would be at home on some of Bob Dylan's 1970s output. At times, though, the lush, orchestra landscape that gives the album depth also sabotages the emotional pull of the songs. On "Don't Just Do Something," Mr. Pierce pours his soul out, but is beat out by his backing vocalists.
The release offers some standout moments, though, such as the perfect blend of lush string arrangements and heartfelt vocals on "Stop Your Crying" ("Nothing hurts you like the pain of someone you love") and the 10-minute-long "Won't Get to Heaven (The State I'm In)." Mr. Pierce has always been the soul of Spiritualized and this certainly is a Spiritualized record. But trading in hypnotic synthesizers for gospel choirs doesn't put "Let It Come Down" in the company of Mr. Pierce's earlier work with the band. D.S.

TENACIOUS D
Self-titled
(Epic Records)
What started out as a joke skit on HBO is about to give comedians Kyle Gass and Jack Black the last laugh. The duo's classic-rock-meets-heavy-metal-comedy-music has been given the major label treatment on the self-titled "Tenacious D," and it's one of the most original albums of the year.
Part of this comes from the pure hilarity of a pair of overweight, fairly unattractive guys with acoustic guitars claiming to be heavy-metal gods. With original songs that pay homage to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and 1980s hair bands in general, Tenacious D also manages to slip in creative guitar solos, sweet harmonies and hilarious lyrics.
Because the show began on HBO and plays along with the notion that rock bands are "fueled by Satan," the record should not be mistaken for a child-friendly, "Weird Al" Yankovic-type parody. With the help of the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl (returning to his Nirvana role as drummer), the Dust Brothers producing and Phish's Page McConnell on keys, Tenacious D moves from the realm of novelty act to real rock band.
On "Tribute," the two relate how they played the "greatest song in the world" to thwart the devil in a song that sounds like Zeppelin writing its own "The Devil Came Down to Georgia." Other highlights include Mr. Gass showing off his classical guitar skills on "Rock Your Socks," Mr. Black's powerful voice roaring across the album's heaviest track, "Explosivo," and the two harmonizing like an updated version of the Allman Brothers on the sentimental "The Road." Whether the collaboration lasts past this debut is anyone's guess, but Tenacious D manages to rock far harder than most "serious" bands out there today. D.S.

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