But raging against the machine is like yelling at the TV -- pointless and woefully misdirected. Lyricist de la Rocha has strong political views, particularly when it comes to the plight of Mexicans on both sides of the border. His indignation is vented sharply at times ("Vietnow," "Without a Face"), clumsily and artlessly at others ("Bulls on Parade," "People of the Sun"). While going on and on about the white man's oppression, de la Rocha ignores the reality that tyrannical machines are oftentimes constructed, operated, and sustained by ordinary people like himself. His anger should be aimed at something more specific than an entire race or nation or government; otherwise, his spiels come off as the empty rants of a rebellious post-adolescent. If Rage's raw musical muscles were grinding over a focused message, Lord knows how potent they could be.
Brian Stevens established his pop smarts as one-third of the singing-songwriting Cavedogs, whose relentlessly engaging Joyrides for Shut-Ins showed up as a blip on the commercial radar screen for a nanosecond in 1990; soon thereafter, following its less-zingy second album, the Boston-based band withered and disappeared. Now here comes Stevens with a bouncy, consistently tuneful solo debut that brims with minor-key melodies reminiscent of Rubber Soul-era Beatles, Skylarking-era XTC, East Side Story-era Squeeze, and, not surprisingly, the Cavedogs' Joyrides -- all chiming guitars, keyboards, and vocals that have been fleshed out with some baroque flourishes (notably Jon Brion's chattering clavinet on "Every Night She Glows" and Marc Lowenstein's downbeat, multitracked clarinets on "The Real Thing"). Instrumentally, it fairly beams. Well, it seems to, anyway.
The reedy-voiced Stevens leads his studio band (which includes XTC's Dave Gregory) through a peck of hooky midtempo pop-rockers ("Comets," "Fall Together" are especially likable) and a pair of funk-dusted songs (the Badfingeresque "The Piper" and the loping "Mixed-up," Brian's tale of a theater production saddled with a stinky script -- in essence, his We Bombed in New Haven), undercutting his jocular-sounding music with oblique allusions to disappointment, disaffection, and dissatisfaction, some of which appear to stem from the Cavedogs' fruitless peregrinations in major-label land. Throughout, Stevens comes across as something of a pop Candide ("Zasu Pitts," "Disillusioned Days," "In the Pink," "All They Do"), painfully aware that all's not really for the best in this best of all possible worlds. (443 Albany St., Boston, MA 02118)