Use Your Fingers
You'll find white rappers generally fall into two camps: Beastie Boys disciples and the House of Pain clique. In the former, honky hip-hop has nothing to do with the African-American experiences that gave birth to the rap form; rather, the genre has been borrowed to express the middle-class -- often suburban -- ennui that comes from too much pop culture and too much leisure time (e.g., Beck). In the latter, groups attempt to co-opt the Afrocentrism and identity worship from black rap and use it as a template for their own particular ethnic trumpeting (Irish, in House of Pain's case).
On their debut album, Use Your Fingers, Bloodhound Gang make it clear which group they expect to be lumped in with: "No, I'm not the guy from the Beastie Boys!" yells Jimmy Pop (or is it his partner, Daddy Long Legs?). Hailing from somewhere near Ween-land (suburban Philadelphia), Bloodhound Gang is a self-contained frat party dying to offend anyone who'll listen to their often hilarious, in-your-face political incorrectness. They fight for their right to be moronic throughout this nineteen-track disc, whether salaaming to comedian Rip Taylor or invoking the Cavity Creeps from an old toothpaste commercial.
It's not all just fat-chick and cripple jokes, though: Bloodhound Gang backs up their obnoxious idiocy with some fairly wise musical maneuvering. While their ages and backgrounds lead them to mine the Eighties for material -- Duran Duran and Cure samples, Michael Jackson and Blondie interpolations, a cover of Kim Wilde's "Kids in America" -- a sly comment or ingenious a cappella snippet proves they're also surprisingly sharp and able. Best of all, their knack for placing references completely out of context keeps the irony in control while ensuring the lunacy reigns unfettered.
By Roni Sarig
There's something both comforting and distressing about listening to Jimmy Buffett's new album, Barometer Soup. On one hand, Buffett is like that favorite old Hawaiian shirt A once you put it on, you're ready to party. On the other hand, though Buffett's senior slacker image may remain intact, his routine is getting worn.
Don't get me wrong. As a devout Parrothead (the nickname by which Buffett fans go), I stand by our beloved beach bum. But these days, as he nears age 50, most of his songs are either bogged down by mawkish sentimentality (the self-indulgent "Jimmy Dreams") or formula licks (the boringly skittish "Diamond as Big as the Ritz," to name one). The smirk and wit that highlighted his earlier work now comes across as strained, and Buffett risks becoming that crazy uncle at a family function, the one whose idea of a great gag is making fart noises with his armpit.
Obviously, Buffett, like the Grateful Dead, hasn't needed to sell albums in order to fill amphitheaters. But on this, his 26th album, he simply continues to serve up the same themes he's been pondering for the past twenty years, only with far less raillery and sarcasm. (Almost all of the dozen songs here were cowritten by Buffett with four cronies. So much for safety in numbers.) And Buffett's swashy rap, his comic sermon that precedes or follows a song, is all over this album and distracting as hell. What might work well in concert should stay there. Just because I'm listening to his CD in my living room doesn't mean I need to lift my Zippo lighter in exaltation every time a song ends.
The album's not a complete washout, however. The title track amiably seems to answer his 1977 hit "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," and "Lage Nom Ai" appears tailor-made for a Club Med conga line. There's even a James Taylor cover (the deftly jammed "Mexico"). And on the steel drum-swathed (aren't they all?) "Don't Chu-Know," Buffett seems to confront his own fate as he sings, "The well seasoned pro knows how long he can go." I guess we'll have to wait and see.
By George Pelletier
Trent Reznor of nine inch nails obviously loves his own style of music. If not, he wouldn't have signed his old pre-NIN bandmate, Kevin McMahon, and McMahon's current group, the Cleveland-based Prick, to his Nothing imprint. Comparisons between nine inch nails and Prick are inevitable. Both use the same production techniques -- distorted vocals and instrumentation, loud-soft dynamics, samples of everyday sounds, scraping noises -- to more or less the same degree. However, while the sauce may be the same, underneath lies the meat of two completely different creatures: NIN comes off darkly and dangerously obsessive, whereas Prick is playful, whimsically pompous, even gentle. Without the effects, Prick's songs would be wildly melodic and chaotically catchy new-wave tunes, heavily influenced by glam and early metal; with them, they juxtapose familiar elements to create something quite foreign, applying the staples of industrial music (computerized synth and drum loops, sampled noises and sound bites, slamming guitars, bullhorn vocals) to good, old-fashioned pop to produce a new type of art rock. For example, superhumanly fast guitars meet ebullient keyboards and fluffy choruses on "Tough" and "Other People."
Meanwhile, McMahon's vocals are by turns smoothly Bowie-esque ("I Apologise") and screamingly Reznor-esque ("Animal"), with weird, whiny, trollish ramblings ("Communique") interspersed as he poses and preens like a postapocalyptic Marc Bolan. The lyrical content also represents a departure from the industrial pack, with good-natured lyrics exploring both positive and negative aspects of life, love, creativity, and fame. Even sex is treated differently. While Reznor sneers "I want to fuck you like an animal," McMahon chuckles, "I can't take a poke for fun with that animal on your back." Antisocial brooders won't get the same kicks out of Prick as they would from NIN A this is industrial for deviants with a sense of humor.
By Gina Cardenas
Paul K and the Weathermen
Listening to his songs, you get the feeling Paul K is a real asshole. A real smart asshole. His relentless misanthropy, along with a compulsive eclecticism, may explain why Paul K has yet to gain much praise in these United States. Certainly his relative obscurity has nothing to do with his prodigious talents as a songwriter. The not-so-proud owner of three dozen self-released records, a man widely worshipped in Europe, Paul K has released a grand total of two albums stateside. Achilles Heel is number two.
Backed by a drum-tight trio, the Kentucky native lets rip for about half the disc, chugging from the garage stomp of "Deportee" to the caustic fret-slash of "Internet Worm." Much more gratifying are the disc's quieter moments: the delicate country lilt of "Roses for the Rich," the hypnotic violin squalls that illuminate "Golden Opportunity." Like a lot of inveterate cynics, Paul K is a softy down deep. And as deftly as he expels anger, his moments of sonic vulnerability are riveting. When the two come together, as in the darkly masterful "Everything's Forgiven," Paul K seems nothing short of a musical genius. The sort of dude who -- despite his bad manners -- you'd be happy listening to all night.
By Steven Almond
Dave Specter & the Bluebirds
Live in Europe
Dave Specter's Live in Europe displays the 32-year-old Chicago guitarist's taste and fire. Joined by vocalist-harmonica man Tad Robinson and the tight rhythm section of bassist Mick McCurdy and drummer Mark Fornek, Specter stretches out, enjoying the live setting and the obviously appreciative German crowd.
The album begins with Specter's own "West Side Stroll," an instrumental homage to his Chi-town roots. The energy never wanes as Robinson adds his voice and harp tones to the Junior Wells standard "Little by Little," jazzes up John Lee Sonny Boy Williamson's sad letter tale "Bluebird Blues," and brings an appropriate sense of fun to Cleanhead Vinson's "Kidney Stew." His impassioned soul wailing is especially welcome on "Sweet Serenity," which he penned with Specter, while his barely restrained emotional delivery sounds just as gratifying on the Otis Clay classic "I Die a Little Each Day." And Specter's tough but clean lead lines and late-night jazz chords provide a respite from all the screaming histrionics that often pass for blues guitar-playing these days.
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By Bob Weinberg
Sixteen months after the suicide of Kurt Cobain, the carrion eaters continue to pick at the corpse of Nirvana. First, Island Records sent in the clones with the soulless Local H. Now Columbia follows with these ersatz Neverminders. Stay tuned: This dweeb parade has only begun.
By Michael Yockel