They're not bad musicians. Speed-metal tunes such as "Ode" and "Unforgiven" (yes, they actually had the nerve to name it that) demonstrate that these guys can play their instruments really fast. And the band has a knack for consistency. Every song here follows the same formula: a soft Stapp vocal and a few Tremonti broken guitar chords (designed, you understand, to make you think this is going to be a mellow number), then a little cymbal, followed up with drums and bass, then (crash! surprise!) crunching power chords and Stapp's rasping watch-out-for-me-I'm-getting-dangerous-now voice. It's been done a zillion times before, and by bands that can make your skin crawl much better than Creed.

Interestingly enough, Creed isn't trying to make your skin crawl. They want, according to Stapp, "to appeal to people on an emotional level." They want to send a message of hope. Check the lyrics from "Sister": "I see you/You know who/Little sister, little sister/Now realize little sister/Overlooked little girl/Change, change, change." Thanks, guys. I feel better already.

-- Keith Lee Morris

Beyond & Back
The X Anthology

The Los Angeles punk outfit X was one of the most important bands in the history of rock music. The quartet's potent mix of rockabilly riffs, dissonant harmonies, and manic punk rhythms put the L.A. hardcore scene on the map and served as the inspiration for an entire generation of bands, even if the music-industry types never listened. Now, some seventeen years after their debut, bassist/vocalist John Doe and singer Exene Cervenka have compiled a fascinating two-CD collection of album tracks, alternate mixes, live tracks, and demos that trace their grand history.

The first thing you'll notice is how the tracks are slammed right up against each other. One track ends with the final snap of a snare drum and the next moves in without a beat of silence. This pacing adds urgency to the proceedings -- as if Doe and Cervenka were racing against time to get it all in. And perhaps they were. The collection spans their career, from the band's earliest single to a peek at their Unclogged recordings as a re-formed (and reformed) acoustic act. Although every phase is covered, even after 45 tracks there are still regrettable omissions ("Sugarlight," "When Our Love Passed Out on the Couch," "Under the Big Black Sun," and "Hot House").

What is here, however, is enough to thrill any X fan. The live tracks are stunning. From the film The Unheard Music comes an uproarious version of "The World's a Mess, It's in My Kiss," in which Exene misses the notes wildly but locates a primal urge that counterbalances the band's attack perfectly. "Universal Corner" and "Back 2 the Base" sound twice as ferocious as the seminal versions found on the band's second album, Wild Gift. The demos reveal just how much discipline producer (and ex-Doors keyboardist) Ray Manzarek applied to the actual albums. "Johnny Hit & Run Paulene" is a stunner but rides such a hyped vibe that it occasionally derails harmonically.

While the material from the band's critically lauded first three albums is often captured in its rawest form, Anthology also does a nifty job of putting in focus the band's iffy later years. The departure of guitarist Billy Zoom, the dissolution of Doe and Cervenka's marriage, and heavy-handed production techniques conspired to sabotage the band's obvious charms. The demo for the Dave Alvin penned "4th of July," for instance, suffers from a bit of the Eighties' bloated drum sound. Fortunately, Doe's sensitive vocal delivery survives the assault. The only blatant misstep is the pathetic big-rock workout of "Wild Thing," which is as terrible as music got in the Eighties.

Then again, one dud in 45 is pretty good odds. If you missed X the first time around, this set should make clear what all the critical hubbub was about.

-- Rob O'Connor

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