The Jesus and Mary Chain
(Sub Pop)

After the listless, largely acoustic misfire Stoned and Dethroned, the Jesus and Mary Chain returns four years later with Munki, a near-perfect mix of Jim and William Reid's long-standing love of gooey pop melodies, boho-chic cynicism, and shrieking, overdriven guitars. Their first effort for Sub Pop, Munki is a masterpiece -- an epic-length assault framed by two soaring versions of the (tongue-in-cheek?) "I Love/Hate Rock 'N' Roll," the kind of anthemic sing-along fuzzball the Reids have knocked out intermittently since their debut single "Upside Down" arrived out of nowhere in 1985. They went on to dabbled with drum-machine metal ("Blues from a Gun"), somber soft-spoken ballads ("Sometimes Always," Stoned's 1994 hit featuring the dreary vocals of Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval), and swaggering, sexual drone-un-drang ("Teenage Lust").

A classic singles band, the Mary Chain's longplayers have spanned the gamut between the great -- Psychocandy -- and the grating -- Darklands -- with most of them falling into a formulaic rut of highs and lows. There's a fine album to be assembled from the highs of Automatic and Honey's Dead, for instance, but the singles hodgepodges Barbed Wire Kisses and Hate Rock 'N' Roll stand on their own as testaments to the band's aural and conceptual power.

Munki, however, is remarkable, certainly the first album since Psychocandy to sustain the Reids' brilliance as punk-crazed pop-rock craftsmen, and their most emotionally naked to date. "Birthday" is built around a zooming bass riff borrowed from a dozen Velvet Underground rockers and is beefed up by William Reid's boast "I'm a bad motherfucker now/But I once was cool," as feedback guitar wraps like a flame around his icy vocal. His "Black," meanwhile, is either a masterful shot of his jaded viewpoint ("Nothing here belongs/Nothing here is mine") or a brilliant parody of mopey postmodernists. Either way, the song is the album's gorgeous centerpiece, finding a balance between the Mary Chain's buzz-saw attack of old and their feeble attempt at balladry on Stoned. And within the context of Jim Reid's roaring "Stardust Remedy" and the T. Rex glam-dance confection "Virtually Unreal," not to mention William's menacing "Degenerate," even the return of the terminally dour Hope Sandoval (on "Perfume") is tolerable. That in itself is a remarkable feat, and a sure sign that Munki is an album for the ages.

-- John Floyd

David Cassidy
Old Trick New Dog

Yeah, that David Cassidy, the former teen dream who nearly 30 years ago starred as Keith Partridge on TV's The Partridge Family, a series about a rocking little family "band" that grafted the real-life legacy of the Cowsills onto the prefabricated legacy of the Monkees. The show was a hit, and the "group" -- in truth, only Cassidy and his TV mom/actual stepmom Shirley Jones sang, with the music provided by hired hands -- reeled off a string of Top 40 hits between late 1970 and early 1973. Perhaps you owned their 1970 debut LP The Partridge Family Album, or at least carried your sandwich, apple, and Twinkies to school in a Partridge Family lunch box.

After enjoying some solo success during his Partridge years, Cassidy has since skulked around the pop fringes, releasing an album every so often; in the early Nineties he toured clubs, generating considerable boomer adulation. Anyway, he has always had a sense of humor about his singing career, as evidenced by the titles of some of his records, notably 1975's The Higher They Climb the Harder They Fall, 1992's Didn't You Used to Be ..., and now Old Trick New Dog. The clear, unremarkable voice behind the Partridges' "Doesn't Somebody Want to Be Wanted" and Cassidy's own hit cover version of the Association's "Cherish" is now the clear, unremarkable voice behind pallid ballads such as ""You Were the One" and "Sheltered in Your Arms," and connect-the-dots midtempo shuffles like "Let Her Go" and "(Whatever Happened to) Peace, Love & Happiness," the latter two goosed along by a limp hip-hop beat. MOR treacle and drivel mostly, with many of the songs co-written by Cassidy and various industry careerists (hello Simon Climie, who resurfaces ten years after Climie Fisher's hit "Love Changes").

Additionally, Cassidy covers Al Wilson's 1974 "Show and Tell," in the process extracting the soul from the original, and -- shudder -- attempts to reanimate the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" and "I Woke Up in Love This Morning," burnishing the latter with flecks of electronica. Major mistakes. Oddly, the best song here is the only one written entirely by Cassidy: the album-closing "Ricky's Tune," a slow, affecting, postbreakup lament that ditches the unimaginative percussive programming heard throughout the album for a significantly more effective foundation of acoustic guitar.

-- Michael Yockel

Welcome Back, Zoobombs!
(Emperor Norton)

The promise of this Tokyo band is awesome, as is vividly illustrated by "Highway a Go Go," the first song on Welcome Back, Zoobombs! and one of the most devastating garage-punk numbers ever recorded. It's often been noted that rock's most primal, direct performances transcend verbal communication -- that Little Richard, Hound Dog Taylor, et al. might as well have been speaking Japanese for all the import their specific word choices carried. Well, Zoobombs' vocalist Don Matsuo proves exactly that: He sings in Japanese. But for a rock-versed English-speaker there can be no question of what the song is about: From the feedback whine and evil chuckle of its intro to the frantic, organ-driven momentum of the verse to the relentless guitar-and-drum-crashing, skidding, shouting-and-crashing-again sound of the chorus, it's about rocking -- and rocking hard.

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