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Clint Darling's April 2002 Column
Ruthless, Cruel & Inhumane

By: Clint Darling

Let's jump right in, shall we? This month's pile is lagging way behind -- keep those discs coming, folks, and if they exhibit some real passion, some honesty and some fucking brains to go with their brawn you'll get your glowing words of praise. If not....

MARGARET JANE...what can you say to dissuade an earnest, talented singer-songwriter from crawling into the voracious slimepit of the music industry? MJ obviously lacks even the first bit of cynicism or self-protection; her open wide-eyed voice and melodies standing unadorned and unabashed on "Mate With Life". I can't dislike it but I cringe at the thought of her out there in the vile scumyards on her own. Reference Joan Baez, Jewel and Edie Brickel for easy pigeonholing. As a note, I caught my girlfriend with this in her CD player more than once and although she gave a guilty look her taste is usually quite good on the His Name Is Alive/indy/30's tip.

Straight from 1980 to you comes the triumphant return and reissue of "Arrival" by RAIL. Once known as Seattle's answer to Van Halen and wearing their Rush and Def Leppard mullet-badges proudly, Rail still sounds like a buttrockers wet dream -- concave chests yowling operatic vocals as the lead guitars fly. What a bunch of shit. This will remind you why we had to kill metal and turn it over to the "faster, pussycat" section of that dark choir. On the bright side, Everyday Music paid more for this disc than all the others in this column combined. Go figure.

Tag alt.bar.rock on Google and I'm pretty sure that CRACK CITY ROCKERS would be the first entry to arrive. Not a genre given to transcendence so I won't look for any here but "Joyce Hotel" is sweaty and emotional and not entirely focused on getting anywhere...much like a good night in the right bar.

THE MAROONS have, very quietly, lasted long enough to grow into the brilliance at which they've always hinted. Rooted in Portland, OR's sometimes shining scene for an irregular 15 years, the band has the depth, maturity and confidence to do anything they want they way they want. No need to suck up to my boss here -- his record label should be proud to wear this crown jewel and eager to disprove "You're Gonna Ruin Everything"'s deprecating title. The only downside I see is that at their "advanced" age, The Maroons are not going to be eager to live in a van and tour the country in support of this and that is going to deprive an entire generation of a rock'n'roll heartbreak that everyone should experience.

I thought ARTHUR would be a good followup and "Loneliness Is Bliss" didn't disappoint -- very much in the thoughtful-rock vein but without the...uhhhh...talent. If songwriters could eliminate the word "I" from their vocabulary the world would be a better place. That said, Arthur shows great commercial potential with undereducated but mopey suburban teenagers.

3RD STRIKE are way out of my league. When old people walk down the street and look fearfully at groups of 15-yr-olds gathered on the corner by the playground, smoking, this is the soundtrack that they imagine. If these selections from their debut album, "Lost Angel", are any indication, 3rd Strike will do well among rebellious high school sophomores but probably not crack the college crowd. Imagine a better-produced (and possibly more musically talented!) Limp Bizkit and you're in the right territory. Yerch.

THE CHURCH OF GARY NUMAN: A DARK CELEBRATION (A Tribute By Jim Collins) left this reviewer absolutely speechless. A stilted, unimaginative, hackjob, this disc really leaves you wondering how messed up is this guy (especially when he thanks his Mom and daughter). Revealing no great recording techniques or playing abilities, it's a testimony to Jim's obsession and lack of personal style. I will give points to his Jazz/Muzak version of "Cars", however. If the whole album had as much tongue-in-cheek attitude as this last seemingly throwaway cut it would be a much better use of plastic.

GROOVE DRIVER suck. "Mockery" has got to be a vehicle for getting laid but it's hard to believe that girls in Virginia are really stupid enough to believe that owning a distortion pedal is a substitute for talent -- Virginia ain't no Arizona, boys. One of the few bands I've heard that can make a two-and-a-half minute song feel like six.

Also possessing distortion pedals but using them on their vocals as well as guitars, MAKE BELIEVE take a stab at alt.rock and generally come off better than our boys from Virginny. Reference a happier-sounding Dinosaur Jr. or any late-80's moment in Minnesota and you've got a pretty good picture. "As A Matter Of Fact" shouldn't make them a household name but it's a good first effort (boy, I sure hope it's a first effort!) and if they practice a lot and play hard, well, someday they can get a job at Texaco. And when the girls get there they'll have something to play to show them how smart they are.

No clue what this was -- there wasn't any real documentation with it when I got it -- but MASTERS AT WORK FEAT. PUPPAH NAS-T & DENISE (?) sound like a reggae marching band on their way to a shift at McDonalds on "Work", a couple of remixes centered around a chant of (get ready) "work! work! work! work!". If this is supposed to make you move it did but only as far as the CD player to get this damned thing off before I started working as a District of Columbia nanny with tax problems.

Some woman left HANK HARRIS and it takes him an entire album of strictly rhyming, fixated, AOR lyrics to get through it. When not closely documenting the depths of his spurned love, he's reworking Very Stale Lines to no effect. I mean, "take me to the river" ? Please.....the album is "Here" and I wish I weren't so I wouldn't have to listen to it even once.

A familiar voice marks BUTCH BERRY on his eponymous confessional -- a folksy cafe-style writer pouring his problems out on you at an open mic on a Monday night but with enough of a twist to make you want to come back the next week. Don't polish him too much or he may disappear but then again maybe he'll shine.

There wouldn't be a review here at all for GINGER MOON's "Celebrity Volunteers" except that it seemed important to pass a message to John Sullivan. John, stop. Please. Just stop. You've lived as much of the dream as you're ever going to.

I'll have to look up WILLA FORD on the Net -- my guess is that she's a computer-generated facsimile of Britney Spears but tailored a little darker for the R&B crowd. "Willa Was Here" just sounds like it oughta be popular. A real rarity, too -- more vocal processing than gets slapped on Ozzy Osbourne!

Pink hearts adorn "Hurry My Heart" by LISA GOULDER...she looks older than 17 b ut nobody can tell by her preoccupations (driving lessons, first love, etc.). Sappy neo-country...I was relieved to be shocked from my morbid fascination by the grinding whirr of the paper shredder eating secret Enron documents.

Figuring that THE PARANORMAL HUMIDOR was a great name but worried by the existence of an "executive producer" with no other apparent role, I held my breath and crossed my fingers while slipping it into the stereo. Definitely prog rock of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer or early Genesis school but with a touch of teenage Gwar thrown in to shake things up from time to time. "Somnambulist" is the perfect disc for someone who laments missing the great age of English theatrical rock. Or has ADD.

Waaaay back when, my older brother worked at Boeing and had a band that played on weekends. He got some of the first home studio gear and promptly disappeared for months writing songs like "Take Me To Your Floppy". I knew instantly that BONGO POETS are a twenty years removed version of that same thing. Nice, funny, talented guys who take their weekends once in a while and play around at "being in a band" kinda. Their wives play "ordinary guise" for their friends and they all agree that it's much funnier and cuter than anything they hear on the radio. And while they can't put their finger on it (hint: lack of ability to hit high notes), the wives don't worry that their guys will get pulled out on the road anytime soon by an adoring public.

Play it for anyone, gals, it's safe.

Wow, talk about a producers disc! "Azure Wonder & Lust" by ANNETTE FARRINGTON is layered with so many vocal effects that it's hard to tell if her voice is really as good as it sounds but the Middle Eastern/Technotribe backing tracks are given huge play by producer/musician/puppet master ANTHONY RESTA. My girlfriend snatched it right up, though, so it's sticking around for awhile.

Equally produced but to much more direct result, PETLAND rocks like ELO on "Miss Roboto" and keyboardist/vocalist is a stone fox cutie! If mastermind Eric Teather has any sense he'll stick her right up front during their live shows and make sure the lights are hot. Falling into the early Sunset Valley territory and rockin' like old pros these guys grabbed me right away. Geek rock faves!!

Keeping our pet theme going, ROSS AND THE HELLPETS happened to be in my hand when their graphic designer called. Coincidence? Or vast, far-reaching conspiracy? "Teddy Bears Gone Bad" would probably need a conspiracy to be any kind of commercial success but it'd be a hoot to see these guys live while looped on martinis. Languid, almost-English kitsch that just needs a good suppression of the cerebral cortex to be utterly enjoyable. Perhaps I should go attend to that. Ciao!

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