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The Goods
(independent CD)

One more time I'll offer my humble and honest impression of a band I've raved about for years. The title is a chewy triple-entendre: as in to make, or mint, an album; as in this thing should make a mint for the lucky record label that signs them (if one does); and as in refreshing like a mint, because this album is unlike any other Goods recording.

Some songs front keyboardist John Camacho, others leave the lead vocals to his bassist brother, Jim. The harmonies are so strong, though, it's unfair to make too much of who's singing what. Even guitarist Tony Oms and drummer Kasmir Kujawa get in some vocal licks, and their songwriting presence is unmistakable. The Goods use a strange writing regimen: They randomly divide into twos, with each duo writing a song, then repeat the process with different pairings. Eventually each tune turns into a band creation, not the pennings of any one particular member.

Mint boasts at least eight hit singles, and "Hypocrite" would be the ninth if it didn't prominently feature the word shit, thereby precluding radio play. Bleeping the offending word would make the song unlistenable. One cut, "I'm Not Average," is already a hit, number one for several days in a row on WSHE's "Top 10 at 10:00." That song originally was recorded for 1990's Too True to Be Good EP. See why advocating the Goods is frustrating? It takes five years for most people to get it.

Fortunately for the band, Mint can be "got" on first listen, at least to the point of enjoyment. Figuring out everything on it takes much longer, which is merely one reason Mint can be considered a masterpiece -- and not just by me. In my enthusiasm, I played the CD for a half-dozen people of disparate musical leanings. Each one had the same drop-jaw reaction: "Wow. These guys are going." As in going to the majors, going to the top of the charts, going worldwide. Yeah, well, I've heard that before.

But I have to admit that "Happy Man" -- which the band jokingly (I think) calls an "an updated version of 'Tears of a Clown'" -- has the biggest hook of the Nineties so far. And that "Sweet Like a Song" is as sweet a song as has been recorded lately, though it's also strikingly big, almost operatic, with amazing pace changes and lyrics such as "Do you really want to die?/I don't know, I haven't tried" and "With sobriety comes remorse." And I should say that "Grow" is the ultimate anthem, both for the Goods and for those who take time to think about the life they're living. And that listening to "Slow Down" is like taking a good drug.

"Minnesota Girl" is as urgent as a 911 call, "Romantic" as lilting as a gondola ride. There is nothing average here. Every single track is fully realized (a bassoon shows up on "Romantic") and every single track matters.

Mint isn't simply a brilliant effort by a local unsigned band. It's one of the most brilliant albums of the decade. You'll probably agree five years from now.

By Greg Baker

Bettie Serveert

A dumb moniker with an even dumber story behind it. The name was lifted from a book about tennis. Translated from Dutch it means --get ready -- "Bettie serves." Weirdly, the band itself, a Dutch quartet, rocks to all holy hell.

Anyone who bought 1993's Palomine knows that already. Lamprey is even better, an assembly of jagged melodies illuminated by the wiry fretwork of Peter Visser and the subtle lyricism of vocalist Carol Van Dijk. These are songs that evolve slowly, spiraling upward in a sonic froth that approaches the thrash melting point, but never abandons the hook.

The hook is holy to Bettie Serveert, and their hooks are epic. So epic that I kept wondering just who it was they reminded me of. It took a while, but I finally nailed it: Blue Oyster Cult.

Yes! B.O.C.! (Cue: Lighters up.)
It's all there: the sweeping songlines, the workmanlike rhythms, the resplendent power chords. True, Van Dijk has a prettier voice than Eric Bloom, but the two are clearly splashing in the same genetic pool.

In fact, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if it turned out that a batch of amorous Dutch groupies spawned Bettie Serveert, after that first B.O.C. European tour. Sure, the ages are a bit fuzzy. But anyone who lines up the haunting "D. Feathers" against "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" will hear what I'm getting at.

These kids very well could be the lost love children of Blue Oyster Cult. Stranger things have happened, though usually not on Dutch soil.

We'll let the tabs chew on that. Your job's to find the album.
By Steven Almond

Spy Magazine Presents, Vol. 3: Soft, Safe & Sanitized
Who needs Adam Sandler, anyway? This collection of tunes A all culled from the days when rock and roll was routinely processed and homogenized for AM radio -- is all the more hysterical when you realize these are not parodies.

Space doesn't allow us to do justice to each of the twelve cuts, so we'll note the highlights. The Brothers Four's dull, white-bread reading of the Beatles's "Revolution" takes on new meaning in the post-Republican landslide era of the Angry White Male; the Manhattan Strings's Muzak-inspired treatment of "(Theme From) The Monkees" takes a snappy pop tune and reduces it to the level of a funeral dirge; Bing Crosby bum-bum-bumbles his way (literally) through the chorus of "Hey Jude"; Jim "Gomer Pyle" Nabors tediously saps every ounce of soul out of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." And Mitch Miller, the crotchety sing-along bandleader who never made a secret of his contempt for rock and roll, stammers his way through the free associations of "Give Peace a Chance" with such apparent pain that even Captain Beefheart would have to admire the old guy's spunk.

That's not to say that all the cuts are severely painful. Velvet-voiced Mel Torme gets down with a definitive lounge version of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman" which actually improves on the original. When the Vegas vet croons "'Cause I've made my mind up/You're going to be mine/I'll pick up your hands and slowly/Blow your little mind," you can almost hear the cocktail glasses tinkling in the background.

And then there's a cover of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone," by the Living Voices who, in their less drug-induced phases, collaborated with Henry Mancini on such film scores as Breakfast at Tiffany's. All diction and no fire, the song is so utterly without redeeming qualities that it's fucking brilliant and, ultimately, far more evil than the original from which AM radio programmers of the Sixties hoped to protect their innocent listeners.

By Jim Murphy


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