- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

OASIS

Heathen Chemistry

(Epic)

In the press materials for Oasis' latest release, guitarist-songwriter Noel Gallagher dismisses the band's last album "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants" as having only three or four good songs, and apparently "virtually disowns" the album prior to that, "Be Here Now." One has to wonder whether he'll be saying the same thing about "Heathen Chemistry," the group's fifth studio album, in a couple of years.

Oasis, left with only the Gallagher brothers (Noel and lead singer Liam) as its only original members, has been foundering a bit since the international success of 1995's "(What's the Story) Morning Glory?" It remains one of the best-selling British albums of all time, and its reputation continues to bolster Oasis, even if the band's subsequent material hasn't lived up to the hype.

Once notorious for their feuding, the Gallagher brothers have reportedly made nice and cleaned up their act, which has helped rejuvenate the band's sound, even if it is unlikely to return to critical and commercial prominence. On the opening track, "The Hindu Times," Liam Gallagher's voice sounds distorted under the fuzzy guitar, with a melody that seems cribbed from the Rolling Stones, circa the mid-1970s. The band has incorporated more of that group's blues-rock sound, especially on "Force of Nature" and "Hung in a Bad Place."

"Hung" is actually written by bassist Gem Archer, an unusual move for a band dominated by Noel Gallagher for so long. It is also one of the better tracks on the album, with driving verse and a guitar solo that mirrors the kind of classic rock the band seems to be striving to create.

In addition, guitarist Andy Bell also contributes a song, and Liam Gallagher actually has three tunes to his credit. One of those, "Songbird," sounds like it could be a leftover from the Beatles' "White Album," with Liam sounding suspiciously like John Lennon as he sings along to a simple acoustic guitar melody and minimal percussion.

One of the highlights is the instrumental "A Quick Peep," Mr. Bell's tune, that charges forward with a bluesy guitar riff and hand-clap percussion. It's only about a minute long, but has more life than most of the other tunes on the album. Letting the rest of the band contribute has given Oasis a much needed dose of energy, but there isn't a song here that matches the catchy brilliance of previous hits like "Wonderwall" and "Don't Look Back in Anger."

"Heathen Chemistry" is a step in the right direction, but Oasis has been moving in the wrong direction for so long now that it'll be a wonder if the band ever matches its previous glory. Derek Simmonsen


PAPA ROACH

Lovehatetragedy

(Dreamworks)

The changes in lead singer Jacoby Shaddix speak volumes about the growth curve Papa Roach went through while recording its new "Lovehatetragedy."

A little more than two years ago, Mr. Shaddix was simply known as Coby Dick. He specialized in weaving blistering rap into Roach's bass heavy-metal assault. The new Mr. Shaddix is a tea-sipping fop by comparison.

This is not to say Roach's leader no longer intimidates. But on "Lovehatetragedy," he's more likely to stand beside the mosh pit than dive into it from the top of a stage speaker.

More importantly, Mr. Shaddix and Papa Roach have smartly divested themselves of their passe rock 'n' rap cornerstone. They return as major players in what could be a burgeoning new hard-rock scene.

From the countdown lead-in and glam-rock prelude scream, "M-80 (Explosive Energy Movement)" is heavy metal. A blitzkrieg drumbeat and frantic fretwork on the chorus give the song a punk edge, but the group's former fascination with rhymes is nowhere to be found.

Mr. Shaddix "decafs" long enough to turn "Decompression Period" and "Life Is a Bullet" into complex anthems of pain. First-album songs such as "Last Resort" and "Broken Home" delivered the dysfunction in easier-to-swallow doses, but these are more premeditated and disturbing.

It is unclear whether Mr. Shaddix would consider this a compliment, but his singing sounds a lot like Gavin Rossdale of Bush.

Find that hard to believe? Check out the '70s arena-rock return on "Black Clouds."

Papa Roach hasn't abandoned all its childish tendencies. "Walking Thru Barbed Wire" paints vivid mayhem, but ends up being a gory snapshot. The root of the angst is never confided.

"Born With Nothing, Die With Everything" is much more cathartic and honest. Bareback-riding a fuzzy guitar roller coaster, Mr. Shaddix tells his rock-star saga: "In a daze these days go by. Faster and faster I speed through life. Now I've got to take control."

It's an honest rags-to-riches story of the music business, and you don't know whether to respond to his insecurities, envy his newfound wealth and fame, or congratulate him for recognizing the imbalance.

Papa Roach still mixes the guitar riot with rap on "She Loves Me Not," just to prove that they've gotten better at it. But as the first single, it is clearly a transition from the old sound.

To hear Papa Roach's new influences, one need only listen to the respectful cover of the Pixies' "Gouge Away," included on "Lovehatetragedy" as a bonus track. New York Times News Service


MARY TIMONY

The Golden Dove

(Matador)

Consider Mary Timony the J.R.R. Tolkien of indie rock. On her second solo album, the former Helium front-woman continues to supplement her delicate, wispy songs with mythical allusions and fantasy imagery. She even includes, as a bonus track, a cover of the 17th century song "I Prithee Send Me Back My Heart," with her haunting voice sounding like a buried time capsule unearthed from a medieval castle.

For those who are already familiar with Miss Timony from her stellar debut, "Mountains," this follow-up offers little in the way of surprises. The production is a bit richer this time around, though, with a stirring string line adding a terrific rejoinder to Miss Timony's jangly guitar on the opening track "Look a Ghost in the Eye."

Throughout the album, her magical references serve to cover up what sounds like deeper emotional pain, such as on "Blood Tree," where she calmly sings "Deep on the banks of the Blood Tree/you strangle me so delicately." Miss Timony repeats the last line twice, sounding oblivious to its dark meaning, even while her guitar cranks out a faint, haunting riff.

Her sly humor shows up on "14 Horses," a track that manages to sound like another medieval cover, save for lines like "Our love became a funeral pyre," "take us back to L.A." and "the chrystal ship of your mind," clear nods to the Doors. A pounding bass drum strikes on the downbeat through the entire song, giving it an undercurrent of fear as Miss Timony's voice sounds strained and fragile.

Putting aside her odd lyrical turns ("Music sets us free/the monkey, the lion, the ocelot and me" she sings on "The Owl's Escape"), Miss Timony remains a uniquely weird force on the independent music scene. This may not surpass "Mountains" as a musical feat, but it's safe to say there's nothing else quite like it out there. D.S.


CRANK YANKERS

"Crank Yankers: The Best Uncensored Crank Calls Volume 1"

(Comedy Central Records)

Few comic premises draw as many consistent guffaws as the adroitly executed prank phone call. Sure, they tend to have a bit of malice in them, especially in the hands of an unrepentant teen. When performed with an insouciant wink, they can make us grin no matter how guilty we may feel for doing so.

"Crank Yankers: The Best Uncensored Crank Calls Volume 1" traffics in the best, and worst, of the genre.

The CD, featuring bits culled from the eponymous Comedy Central show, leans too heavily on smutty chatter for its punch lines.

Stripped of their censoring bleeps and the puppets which act out the calls on the show the CD still features enough gems to make it worth a listen.

The consistently raunchy "Crank Yankers" benefits from a nimble cast of comics, including "Saturday Night Live"'s Tracy Morgan, Dennis Leary and Dave Chappelle. Comedy Central's Adam Carolla contributes two solid calls placed by his Birchum character, a grizzled Vietnam veteran who delights in recounting his missing body parts.

Comic Lisa Kushell's "Blind Stripper," in which she asks a club owner if she can dance alongside her Seeing Eye dog, nails the politically correct crowd. And "Niles Calls Healthcare" makes one wish the entire album featured bits by Tony Barbieri and his delicious British alter ego.

Still, given a half dozen shows of the new series from which to draw, the material shouldn't include so much filler. "Porn Survey" doesn't even get the phony phone call concept. When comic Wanda Sykes can't keep the unsuspecting woman on the phone to complete her routine, the comic leaves a rambling message on her voice mail. The prank call's raison d'etre is its awkward give and take, not a one-sided monologue.

The last of the 17 tracks, Jim Florentine's crude "I Got Mail," features a mentally soft character who delights in hearing AOL's signature mail sound. It's both silly and irresistible what more could you ask from a crank call? Christian Toto


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