Thursday, June 16, 2005


Nothing is more profitable than the comeback.
If there's a lesson to learn from 2005, it's that there's money in nostalgia. When a reunited band rolls into town, you suddenly realize that you totally need to see them. But it's too late because tickets are already sold out--apparently, everyone else missed them too. Take the Pixies, for example, who sold out nine nights in New York City. Or Slint who triumphed three consecutive nights at Irving Plaza (strange when considering that during their first phase, they only played one night in New York. Ever). Or how about Gang of Four, that's recording a new album of all new material based on the realization that reclaiming your territory beats working an office job?

But what happens when a band never goes away? What happens when there is no anticipated return, no trumpeted reunion (Don't call it a comeback. They've been here for years)? When an aging, influential musician makes a new record, does anyone care? After all, new fledgling bands rarely cite current output as an influence. No one embraces New Order's or the Cure's latest two records as immensely important to their sound.

Way back in '93, Teenage Fanclub was hyped as the next big thing. They even played the once-coveted Saturday Night Live slot. But then came Nirvana, established their own teenage fanclub and made Bandwagonesque the best album you never heard that year. Ever since, the three supremely talented songwriters, Gerard Love, Norman Blake, and Raymond McGinley, have continued to produce fine and consistent documents of power pop, rife with a Big Star largeness and a memorable and hookable sensibility. As time continued, Teenage Fanclub’s presence was exponentially downsized, even with Nick Hornby’s regular support. And with Man-Made, that's unlikely to change. The album, produced by Tortoise frontman John McEntire, commendably seeks out the big re-invention, muddying up the once-crisp pop sheen and incorporating infrequent sound effects but ultimately, the effort falls flat, feeling dull and bland. The Man-Made experience sounds effortless but not in a good way. As the title suggests, this is indeed a humble effort; just a bunch songs made by men who kinda like making music. But a band with a legacy like Teenage Fanclub should sound like they’re aiming a bit higher than that.

Another band with the cursed history of critical acclaim and meager record sales are The Go-Betweens. Robert Forester and Grant McClennan, the only two permanent members of this 'literary" band (which I could have sworn meant they both know how to read) give us Oceans Apart, the third record in the second phase of their career (they took a 12-year hiatus). Unlike Teenage Fanclub, though, The Go-Betweens examine their successful roots and attempt to revive their late-80's aesthetic by utilizing the same producer--Mark Wallis--who took the helm for their classic, 16 Lovers Lane. Splitting the vocal duties down the middle, both McClennan and Forester take the center stage singing dramatic songs of distinctly English pop. Personally, I’m partial to McClennan's tuneful vocals while Forester’s speak-singing, akin to David Byrne’s quirky delivery, plainly irritates me. Oceans Apart rates as a hokey and aged album sprinkled with awkward synth and outdated sentiments. The vibe throughout is retro like the "ba-da-ba's" in the chorus of "This Night's For You," which sound too fey in these cynical times. Ocean Apart sounds like collected dust on a well-written book.

The award for most jarring transformation goes to Bob Mould, the lead singer of both-defunct Husker Du and Sugar. As all Mould solo-efforts, Body of Song, opens with a feverish rocker, the venting of a spurned lover. "Circles," an angsty song that goes places Mould's vocals shouldn't, pushes his beefy and bitter voice to strained heights. But the initial introduction to Body will never prepare you for "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope," a song that sounds like a Cher outtake. Legit. Using the same vocal manipulation found on the hit "Believe," Mould records a club-rock hybrid that repeats the unfortunate mantra of "shine your light love hope." Not very punk, if you ask me. Maybe Bob has taken Out Magazine's Hottest Returning Gay Rock Icon Award a bit too seriously. Even more disturbingly, he repeatedly uses the vocoder throughout the record like a child with a new toy. As his press release states, "Mould spent time further cultivating his newfound love of club music..." and that's when I stop reading. I commend Mould for stretching the confines of his sound but when he teases the listener with straight-forward rockers like "Best Thing" and "Missing You," the experiments feel like a mid-life crisis. Sometimes, piercing an ear is subtler.

And finally, in order of disappointment, the most self-imposed obscurity of the bunch is Linda Perry who is famous for two things: one, for embedding the annoyingly annoying song "What's Going On?" into your brain circa '92 (as lead singer of 4 Non Blondes) and two, for writing hits for Christina Aguilera, Pink, and Liz Phair. Perry has otherwise kept her songs for others to interpret, a wise decision after hearing her first album in almost ten years entitled In Flight. Sounding like a more masculine Alanis Morrisette, the twelve songs on her latest feel like out-takes from her 4 Non Blondes recording sessions. How could someone who has been so closely involved with today's pop acts create an album so backward-sounding? Just about every instrument, every "ache," the production, the execution, the delivery, feels so ten years ago. Truthfully, I was genuinely excited about In Flight, more so than any of the other albums featured in this review which makes this album even more disappointing. Recently, Perry has proven herself to be a consistent and compelling songwriter but after listening to her sing in her signature husky Cher-like voice (is she buds with Mould?) about Jesus ("Freeway" just hurts), I realize that this was one re-invention I could have done without. Sadly, In Flight performs like something they would sell exclusively in a Starbucks. Not that I was expecting challenging art that bit with every note but after finishing In Flight, I want to put on a Christina Aguilera record. And no, that's not a compliment to Aguilera.


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