Attention! Blah, Blah, Blah, Atom and His Package
Most of the elements for a good record are here, but somehow Atom
only comes through solidly about a third of the time and, unfortunately, the package is not able
to make up the difference. Harsher critics have called Atoms one-man-plus-sequencer songs
a novelty, but this time around Atom leaves us longing for the carefree, guitar-free fun of his
older songs like Punk Rock Academy. Probably more for reasons of personally trying
to raise the already high bar Atom has set for himself than for any consideration of criticism,
he has varied his formula to include real drumming, bass and guitar on this album. But rather than
sounding new for Atom, this seems to be rehashing the same old youth crew style hardcore that he
avoided in the first place. It was always great knowing Atom liked Youth of Today and Assück,
but he didnt have to try to sound like them for the people to like his music. The novelty
of a man and his sequencer box was a welcome change in the punk world. To be fair, none of the
songs on Attention
are what you would call bad and when they click they really make you remember
that Atom had a good thing going. Atom somehow accidentally got rid of the quirkiness that made
him good in favor of shout-outs to his friends that just sound corny (not to mention a song he
wrote to himself about how he wants to have children which is just annoying) and if that werent
slightly irksome, the generic thrash guitar and the formula punk background music certainly is.
The best moments on this record keep the sequencer in the spotlight with minor instrumental touches,
best exemplified on Im Downright Amazed at What I can Destroy with Just a Hammer
and Possession (Not the One by Danzig). Even the slightly sappy Out to Everyone,
or the nonsensical Head With Arms are proof that an artist can mature a little without
sacrificing what made them good. The song titles, album art and liner notes are typically great,
but somehow this time the album doesnt quite measure up to what Atom can do. The ability
to change musically is necessary for anyone trying to establish themselves, but it can be a double-edged
sword especially if you mess with a proven good thing.
Mary Star of the Sea, Zwan
Give Billy Corgan some credit. The Smashing Pumpkins were a fantastic band.
Mixing indie stargazing and arena rock bombast with Corgans unmistakable metallic growl,
albums like Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness were the soundtracks for all
those kids who sat in the back of the classroom knowing they were cooler then everyone else and
just waiting for the chance to prove it. We all knew the Pumpkins were dorks; the genius
of the Pumpkins was that they knew it too and classic tunes like Rocket and 1979
work because they dont take themselves too seriously.
Corgan and company only started to go wrong when they started mistaking their comic book fantasies
for the real deal hence Corgans obsessive ode to his mother, Adore, and
his disturbingly neurotic spiritual exploration, MACHINA/The Machines of God.
Thankfully, Zwan leaves much of the drama at the door. The best tracks on Mary Star of the Sea
just let the guitars sing and the hooks reign. On the single Honestly, the gorgeous
opener Lyric, and the dizzying Ride the Black Swan, Zwans triple
guitar attack, including Chicago axemen Matt Sweeny (Skunk) and David Pajo (Slint, Tortoise), provides
wonderfully haughty support for Corgans celebratory rock. And former Pumpkin Jimmy Chamberlain
makes an absolutely necessary addition to the already packed line-up with his propulsive drumming,
proving Corgan isnt the only one who deserves to be mixed a few notches higher.
Although the liner notes curiously list Corgan as Billy Burke, the massively jubilant Mary Star
of the Sea is anything but an attempt at anonymity. Most of the electro-pop of the latter Pumpkins
records has been dropped to make room for the Bald-Ones self-important wail the same
shtick that sold his former band millions of records. The problem is that more often than not,
Corgans big head gets the best of him. On the absurdly smug Settle Down, Corgans
scoffs off lines like Whatever I can do, I will, cause Im good like that
without a hint of irony. And later on Baby Lets Rock! you can just see him strutting
across the stage as he sings, Baby, Im the greatest thing you got.
For better or worse, the success of the Pumpkins music always rested entirely on Corgans
shoulders, and though Sweeny and bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle) share some of the writing
credits on Mary Star of the Sea, the same can unfortunately be said of his new band. When Corgan
beats his chest on the 14-minute (!) Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea, in which he compares
himself to the most important figure in Western civilization, or when he lays on the smaltz, as
on the harmonica flop Come With Me, the music suffers undeniably. But when Corgan relaxes
his ample mojo and lets his band work with his superb melodies, Zwan shines.
So though Mary Star of the Sea may turn up dull in places, Corgan, whatever his band might be called,
is going to stay with us for a while longer whether we like it or not. When Corgan introduces his
new band to the world with the albums very first lines, Here comes my faith to carry
me on, you know he means it.
Original Pirate Material, The Streets
Be thankful. In the first draft of this review I attempted to sell The Streets
Original Pirate Material as an album of sometimes cutting, sometimes blissful irony. I balked,
however, realizing the clichéd path I was traversing confusing irony for good music
has been done one too many times and this reviewer is sick of hearing about it. Besides, theres
nothing confusing about this album. Sure, theres irony here its bursting at
the seams with fantastic irony but Im not going to discuss that. Im going to
tell you that Original Pirate Material is an album of 14 introspective, unnerving, insightful,
and delightful songs straight up.
For starters, Mike Skinner (the sole member of The Streets) excels in both content and delivery,
as he proclaims on Lets Push Things Forward. His flow hovers somewhere between
that of a beat poet and an emcee, with lines and rhymes that will grip you like a fly in a spider
web. Some may be turned off by his intensely thick Cockney/British accent, but most have nothing
to fear because Skinners depiction of street-level British existence is irresistible. There
are some throwaway lines, no doubt, but theyre few and far between, as Skinner is a master
of curling your lips into a smile by twisting your ear around rhymes that span several lines at
a time. Jabs such as you cant do half/my crew laughs at your rhubarb and custard verses/you
rain down curses/but Im waving your hearse is driving by in Turn The Page
are the norm here: witty, clever, and grim and yet, spoken with a sense of unmistakable hope and
Wisely, Skinner keeps his beats simple, though he doesnt skimp on the sweetness by any means.
Itll take some ear-training before most listeners feel this way, however, especially if you
like your breaks served traditionally. Original Pirate Material is a collection of raw two-step/garage
tracks: deep bass, strings, soul, and jerky drum tracks that swing so hard my brother thought the
CD was skipping (checkout Has It Come To This? for reference). Its definitely
hip-hop, at least in terms of its ethos, lyrical presentation, and subject matter, but hip-hop
music? Maybe not: as Skinner warns, this aint your archetypal street sound.
Regardless, theres a reason this CD made almost every critics top ten list at the end
of last year: its an all-around solid album. Itll open up your ears and your mind,
leaving you with a craving for more. But for you doubting Obies out there, how about this gem recounting
Skinners rave days: yo, they could settle wars with this/if only they will/imagine
the worlds leaders on pills/and imagine the morning after.
Ironic, intelligent, and political? Sounds like we have a winner