Rubies on the Lawn
Hey, all you rock and roll dads. Are you having trouble weaning your preteen daughter off the Spice Girls, Britney Spears, or (God help us all) Shania Twain? Can you just not convince the lass that this "Girl Power" crap is as phony as Austin Powers's chestwig? Does she still insist that admiring Geri Halliwell is no different from admiring Mia Hamm?
Trish Murphy just might be the answer. This rising star from Texas could bridge the gap between image and real rock and roll.
Rubies on the Lawn is Murphy's second album. It follows the path of her 1998 debut, Crooked Mile, but might actually be a bit mellower. Still, it's unadorned rock, and that makes Murphy a fine example for the females of the species in the eight-to-twelve age bracket to follow. Here's a woman who owns beauty, a lyrical right cross, and the attitude rock in the late '90s desperately needs. Yeah, she's not as accomplished at her craft as Hamm is at playing soccer, but Murphy's heart and soul are in the right place.
The lanky Texan with the long blond tresses has the looks a young girl would want to grow up to have. She plays guitar, and she writes tough, articulate lyrics that go beyond the self-indulgent whining or the juvenile man-bashing that bring down most female songwriters. Finally, after hearing so much about whatever year being the Year of Women in Rock, it's a pleasant surprise to find a woman who actually does rock.
But Murphy's no riot grrrl. She isn't Celine Dion, either. Rubies is dominated by her wailing garage-band guitar, that chafes though not in an annoying way against her sophisticated lyrics. She's an unpolished Chrissie Hynde with a touch of Lucinda Williams or Bruce Springsteen thrown in for the hell of it.
Remember, dads, Trish Murphy is a compromise. She might not be for you, especially if your idea of rock and roll is turning on the classic rock station for your daily dose of "Layla." And a few of her songs, from the musical end, never rise above the average.
Murphy isn't the complete package. Her lyrical muscle far outweighs her abilities as a composer. But she would be a good start for any grammar-school girl who needs a female role model in the music business. Rubies on the Lawn, though hardly perfect, would make a terrific breakout record for this rockin' babe. Steve Byrne
Viva El Amor!
It's been a long journey for Chrissie Hynde. Her Pretenders have been dismantled and reformed so many times over the past twenty years that it really no longer matters who's on board at the present time. Hynde tosses together the Pretenders at will; it's been five years since their last studio outing, the largely disappointing (save the blistering single, "Night in My Veins") Last of the Independents, and time the avenger hasn't been so kind during the hiatus.
Viva El Amor!, which is their seventh album since 1979, certainly plays safe with the classic Pretenders sound punky pop with more convention than anyone would care to admit but the prickly edges that girdled their debut album (as well as the sublime Learning to Crawl and a few spare singles since) are long gone. Viva El Amor! is a collection of finely crafted pop songs and ballads mostly dedicated to the concept of love (all swathed in glossy glory by producers Stephens Hague and Street), but the best track on the album, "Human," wasn't even written by Hynde.
Which leaves her and the new Pretenders with a handful of cuts bitching about '90s superstardom ("Popstar") and other modern concerns that ultimately sound out of time. Somewhat like the Pretenders themselves. Viva El Amor! makes no concessions toward modern rock (admirable), but it also stubbornly plays by rules that were growing old fifteen years ago (not so admirable). Hynde may have always considered herself somewhat a punk, but in her heart she's a classic rocker with brains. Now that she no longer needs to prove anything to anyone, she's grown soft all over.
The most invigorating moments here "Human," "Baby's Breath," the closing "Biker," which actually comes from a scrapped concept album that Viva El Amor! replaced are carefully chiseled pop tunes that have few ties with the Pretenders that recorded "Brass in Pocket." Hynde, the anchor and sole reason behind the band, finds little reason here to revisit her past, yet she can't escape it. Back on the chain gang, indeed. Michael Gallucci
"Give me something to break," screams Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst in one of the best songs from his band's sophomore outing, Significant Other. And if that sentiment doesn't sit well with you, then you've missed the point and appeal of such bands as Limp Bizkit and comrades-in-arms Korn. Blending dysfunctional youth's two favorite musical pastimes rap and metal and loading it with a battery of quote-ready anthems, this late-'90s hybrid of everything that pisses off parents (plenty of "fuck"s, senseless violence, and general antisocial behavior) is, as the kids say, da bomb.
But Durst and crew aren't mere servants in the neo-metal parade along with Korn, they're the leaders. And, with Significant Other, they just might now be the kings. This is the still-nascent genre's crowning moment, a twist in the folds of the Top 40 beast. Rap and metal are in desperate need of refueling, and while Durst never exceeds at either, he handles both quite effectively, more so than any of his peers.
Significant Other is angry, but for mostly the right reasons. On "Break Stuff," Durst understandably snaps over everyday pressure: "It's just one of those days when you don't wanna wake up/Everything is fucked, everybody sucks." What self-respecting '90s kid ain't gonna empathize? Sure, it's juvenile. But it also packs appropriate heat and the occasional self-reflection. Durst spits out his lines with a vengeance, yet he also chastises himself a few times for thinking with his dick (like on the throbbing single "Nookie"). You're not going to see many hip-hoppers or metalheads copping to that flaw.
So, while Limp Bizkit is out of the toilet this time (literally; the band's old stage show, which featured the quintet emerging from a giant commode, has been retired), a few of the debut album's confining factors do remain. Their accessibility to anyone over eighteen is limited, and women in Biz-kit's world are usually just catalysts for Durst's rage. Yet the leap from 1997's offensive Three Dollar Bill, Y'all is astounding, no more so than on "N 2 Gether Now," a collaboration with Method Man and Gang Starr's DJ Premier. It may not mean much to you, but the kids understand. Gallucci
Toning down the smarm that's become its trademark, Pavement twists its fifth album into a rumination on life after the alternative revolution. Not that there's an overriding concept fueling this disc (it lacks the brilliant cohesiveness of such albums as Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain), but the art-damaged quintet are definitely coping with something here. And chances are it has something to do with the fall of the indie empire or would that be the celebration of its regrowth?
Hard to tell. Singer Stephen Malkmus is one of the most enigmatic frontmen making records today. Even when you think you know what he's talking about, you really don't. Stringing together phrases and fragmented musical bites, Malkmus likes the sound of words leaving his mouth. The equally shattered melodies backing him up never had to fight for recognition, however; they are often the core holding it all together. They've grown sharper over the years, nearly to the point where Terror Twilight, given a cursory listen, almost sounds like gasp! a pop album.
But Pavement is too smart to allow it to work on such a basic level. Terror Twilight is layered with the band's usual sardonic smirks (Malkmus's vacant readings, the guitars' out-of-tune solo flights, etc.). But there are sure signs of elation skipping through the grooves here. Working for the first time with an outside producer Nigel Godrich, who gave Radiohead's OK Computer a glorious, spacious sound Pavement finally permits itself to be genial indie rock heroes. "Bring on the major leagues," Malkmus even says at one point.
Yet their mordant tones can't be packed away completely. Which is why Pavement will never be anything more than indie rock heroes. Terror Twilight is too damn ironic to work in the real world, despite Beck's mainstream infiltration in this department. Songs like "Spit on a Stranger" and "Platform Blues" belong in Indieville. Pavement belongs there. And, even though at times it struggles against it, Terror Twilight does, too. Gallucci