|April 12, 1999
Andrew Clevenger, Kat Kinsman, and Lissa Townsend Rodgers
critical success is a mixed blessingjust ask Wilco frontman
Jeff Tweedy. After Wilco released its last album, "Mermaid Avenue,"
a collaboration with British singer-songwriter (and outspoken
socialist) Billy Bragg, music writers went a little berserk.
A lot of ink was spilled on how the Wilco-Bragg union was perfect
to create new music for leftover Woody Guthrie lyrics, since
Wilco updated his Americana sound, and Bragg represented the
natural extension of Guthrie's leftist political leanings. Not
necessarily untrue, but I think Tweedy felt Wilco was being
unfairly pigeonholed into the "roots revival" category, and
given no credit for their depth and range.
"Summer Teeth," Wilco's new album, finds Tweedy flexing
his songwriting muscles and, while he might not quite be in
Bob Dylan's class, he's no lightweight. Jettisoning the steel
guitar in favor of additional keyboards, "Summer Teeth" sounds
less country than Wilco's previous outings. But it doesn't
come off as a commercial decision; it's more like Tweedy happened
to listen to a different part of his record collection while
writing for this record. Instead of hearing the influence
of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, Wilco's sonic landscape
ranges farther afield: hints of a Neil Young guitar riff,
a chugging Lou Reed beat, celestial Brian Wilson harmonies.
"We'll find a way regardless/To make some sense out of this
mess," Tweedy sings on "Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway(again),"
a sunny, buoyant song that wouldn't sound out of place on
either "Pet Sounds" or "Rubber Soul." At times, he sounds
downright giddy: "Will I set the sun/On a big-wheeled wagon,"
he croons on the optimistic "I'm Always in Love," with the
band sounding like a musical martini from the '60sequal
parts Velvet Underground and Beach Boys, with just a splash
don't worry, kids, Tweedy hasn't traded in his whiskey bottle-pout
for a prescription of Prozac. In addition to the bouncy pop-ish
tunes, "Summer Teeth" also boasts some of Tweedy's moodiest
reflections. "She's a Jar" is an intimate portrait of domestic
discord, with a haunting conclusion: "A pretty war/My feelings
hid/She begs me not to hit her." Love, creativity, nostalgia,
and loneliness all run together until the resulting swirl
starts to take shape, making "Summer Teeth" as rewarding on
the tenth listen as it is on the first. Turns out Wilco doesn't
really need Billy Bragg and Woody Guthrie after all.Andrew
We've all got skeletons in our closets. It's just that some
of us, much to the chagrin of our parents, painted them on the
backs of our now-moldering leather jackets. But, seemingly not
everyone has taken their capes and velvet corsets out of daily
rotation quite yet. Yes, proving once again that old goths don't
die (they just dress that way), the Creatures have joined the
recent resurgence of pale and pasty aging goth stars refusing
to go gently into that eternal goodnight. Thus, they have proffered
forth "Anima Animus," their third full-length project since
the release of their first single, "Wild Things," in 1981.
Reigning First Couple of Goth, Siouxsie Sioux and her husband, ex-Slits drummer Budgie, have long been making the world safe for angst-ridden teens in black-painted bedrooms everywhere. As members of the legendary Siouxsie and the Banshees, the duo (along with co-founder Steve Severin and a fluctuating cast of supporting musicians) released 15 albums and nearly twice that many singles. Naturally, with that volume of output, not every iota can be completely fraught with genius, but the Banshees created some works of truly dark and innovative brilliance, while never losing sight of the pop sensibility which garnered them their only U.S. Top 40 single, 1991's "Kiss Them for Me." Previous outings as the Creatures revisited this successful formula, amplified and enriched with the occasional warm overtones of steel drums and marimbas and the inclusion of a more playful and infinitely less dire lyricism (i.e., fewer mentions of decaying flesh, worms, drowning, etc.).
Unfortunately, precious little of this is evidenced in "Anima Animus." Couplets
like "Hordes of locusts blot out your sun/Raining downrain
on everyone," and lyrical gems such as "Oh the pain of joy/Oh
the joy of pain," atop uninspired electronica buzzes and drones
may serve as a tasty chunk of black candy for baby goths who
haven't done their homework. Most likely, though, it will
just send any fan over the age of 18 or so moping back to
her record collection to fondle her copy of "Nocturne" or
"Boomerang," and sigh wistfully for the days of yore. There
is, sadly, little to recommend this album, other than Budgie's
uniquely expansive and layered percussion and the occasional
trademark Siouxsie-on-Siouxsie one-woman choir stylings. Rather,
cringe-inducing, cliched, and gracelessly morbid lyrics and
now-formulaic backing music combine to give good reason to
save your pennies and focus your attention on acquiring all
that back catalog you'd been meaning to anyway.
fear not, children of the nightso long as there are
depressed suburban teens sporting ankhs and Christian Death
T-shirts, and Anne Rice novels remain high on the Times' bestseller
lists, Siouxsie and Budgie will be there for you. Maybe next
time they'll get it right: Light one of your candles and make
a wish.Kat Kinsman
I don't think I've ever heard anything quite like "Dose," the second album by Los Lobos side project, the Latin Playboys. Its unlikely blend of roots-music basics and studio wizardry, souped up with all manner of sound effects and audio oddities, could've turned into a handful of good but half-realized ideas. Instead, it's a cinematic, hallucinatory journey of sudden turns and strange texturesbut rather than wrap these collages around high concepts, "Dose" moves through a series of neighborhood vignettes: the sullen teen, the wise old woman, the streetcorner salesman. It's a little, if you will, like dropping a few hits of mescaline and spending a sunny Saturday getting lost in a benevolent East L.A., where every sidelong glance reveals a new panorama and every half-heard conversation spins off into infinite possibilities.
The opening instrumental "Fiesta Erotica" is a perfect takeoff
to this wild ride: Looped guitars and violins intertwine,
separate, and come back together over neo-industrial percussion,
shifting like sand dunes in the wind. "Ironsides" features
the sound of the eponymous pickup truck warming up in the
driveway, as a cheesy tune plays on the radio anda kid drags
his feet and bitches about wanting to take Lily's Celica to
"the movie show starring Ricardo Montalban and some huer-as!"
The found sounds of "Nubian Priestess" recall wandering down
a sunlit street on a lazy afternoon and hearing seagulls,
video games, and car engines somehow blend into a song of
their own. Tunes that may seem clumsy ultimately become graceful
in their simplicity: "Paula Y Fred" mixes distorted voices
with a hurdy-gurdy backing in a ditty that seems throwaway,
but one that you somehow can't get out of your head.
Not that all of "Dose" is artfully blended oddity: the dreamy keyboards, rolling piano, and cooing chorus of "Latin Trip" bring to mind a hipped-up Sergio Mendes and Brasil 66. "Tormenta Blvd." is a strolling garage instrumental that graces its old-school pace with new-style distortion, while "Cuca's Blues" applies burnished cymbals and urbane guitar riffs to the falsettoed tale of the eventual decline of the prettiest girl in the neighborhood. "Dose" may come on like a strange and unusual world, but if you relax and let it wash over and sink in, you'll be right at home by the third track.Lissa Townsend Rodgers
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