Prince, The Rainbow Children (Npg Records/redline Entertainment)

Prince - The Rainbow Children Prince
The Rainbow Children
Npg Records/redline Entertainment
By: Eric Greenwood

And you thought Graffiti Bridge was bad. You’ll be begging for “Thieves In The Temple” after you get a load of this. Bitter and disappointed by the lack of hits off his blatant stab at a comeback, 1999’s Rave Un2 The Joy Fantastic, Prince cashes in his “genius” chips and produces his most overwrought and utterly pretentious album to date, which is no small feat. A sticker on the packaging labels The Rainbow Children “controversial”, but this is anything but. Cheesy fusion jazz noodlings that would make Chick Corea blush are interspersed with Prince’s attempt at a “God” voice, which he uses when he wants to SEND A MESSAGE. The best effect he could muster is a retro voice box that sounds like a Wookie talking in slow motion. How did it come to this? If finding the Lord is the cause, I hope the devil strikes up a new deal”and fast.

The Rainbow Children is so embarrassingly bad it makes you question Prince’s genius heretofore. Quickie, throwaway contractual obligations like Chaos And Disorder suddenly have new found esteem when compared to this mess. Prince spreads himself so thinly here that even melodies he could have written in his sleep sound like they indeed were. Formless anti-pop is Prince”s flavor of the week. There is nary a good song on this album. His James Brown funk (“The Work pt. 1”) pales in comparison to the original. His offbeat, jazzy runs are cringe-worthy and trite. The raucous guitar solos are forced and altogether unnecessary. Even his voice sounds thin and lifeless, overdubbed so many times that it sounds like millions of robot-Princes uniting for no good reason at all. Is this what his beleaguered and stubbornly loyal fans deserve? To slog through a gratuitous and preachy sermon on unity and love?

Prince sounds as if he believes in the hype of his legend so thoroughly that whatever he farts onto plastic is worthy of your time. Well, it”s not, and there”s never been such categorically damning evidence as this steaming turd of an album. Kicking off the long string of bad ideas is the title track, where the aforementioned jazz noodlings sound not unlike elevator muzak. Ten minutes later I awake in a stupor (and a puddle of drool) to find that the song is still going strong. “Muse 2 The Pharaoh” continues down the cheesy lite favorites course of its predecessor, except this time we”re treated to a nonsensical mix of sexual fantasy (“in other words intertwine/with the ebony and milk of her thighs”) and bible-references (“and if the Proverb of 31 verse 10/becomes the song she sings again and again/she might b queen”). Listening to Prince try to reconcile is lust for flesh and his new found religion is comical and surreal.

Prince’s reputation for quality output has become somewhat of a joke in recent years. Everybody loves the Prince of yore- the shamelessly arrogant, notoriously shy, sexual provocateur, but without the hooks and the hits, Prince is a strange, aging goblin, confused by a desire to bolster his legend and still impress himself. His decisions have been shaky at best. The guy just needs to hire a fucking manager”and an editor (Jesus, his songs are long). But maybe the glory days are over, leaving Prince to his own devices to sink deeper and deeper into this Utopian fantasyland. No one questions his ability, but his taste is another matter. The public has sighed collectively so many times at each wasted opportunity that interest in new Prince material is peripheral at best, evoking even the dreaded “he”s still making records?” from those without an ear to the ground.

Peddling music online has led Prince into an even more detached and out of touch state. His vitriol for the music industry, notwithstanding, it’s still shocking and sad to see his talent wasted on laborious albums that nobody buys. Fire the New Power Generation and hook back up with the Revolution, for God’s sake. Just do something. I don”t know what could bail him out at this point. Prince may be too far-gone. A Jehovah”s Witness? What the hell is going on? Crappy, unmelodic songs like “Digital Garden?” What happened to choruses and bridges? These aimless indulgences are forgotten as soon as they end. I couldn”t hum one of these songs if you paid me to, much less remember a sample lyric. The only thing you take away from The Rainbow Children is a strong sense of how far off his rocker Prince is in 2001.

Vitesse, What Can Not Be, But Is… (Acuarela)

Vitesse - What Can Not Be, But Is… Vitesse
What Can Not Be, But Is…
Acuarela
By: Eric Greenwood

This New York city duo takes a magnifying glass to those bleak melodic bits in songs by bands like New Order and The Magnetic Fields – you know the ones that make you press repeat over and over again " well, Vitesse makes entire albums out of them. Once you get over the fact that Vitesse is crossing well-trodden terrain, then you can begin to appreciate the subtle nuances and fleeting moments of genius inherent to every sad, electronic lullaby this band produces.

There is no bright light at the end of the tunnel for Hewson Chen and Joshua Klein, as every song is a light, melancholic journey into the synthetic pop of England"s brooding legends (Joy Division, The Cure, The Jesus And Mary Chain). Klein"s vocals dip into Ian Curtis" playbook of baritone angst, while teetering on the brink of Stephin Merritt"s self-effacing and troubling cadence. The music is exquisitely catchy, although, equally desolate and downhearted.

Tinny keyboards circle in small repetitive and concurrent melodies while warm synthetics run beneath Klein"s comforting voice. The familiarity is disconcerting at first. You"ll swear you"ve heard these songs before (I pulled out my copy of The Magnetic Fields" Get Lost just to compare). Stephin Merritt may very well be filing a lawsuit as I type, but Klein"s delivery soon carves a new spot for itself in the dejected part of your heart that longs for a perpetual state of disconsolation.

Minimal to the point of being fashionably trendy, What Can Not Be, But Is" never for one moment trades on its seriousness. That is to say these guys aren"t joking. There"s not a trace of irony or cynicism (even in its cover of Bruce Springsteen"s "Unsatisfied Heart"), which, of course, cannot be said of Mr. Merritt. Vitesse genuinely thrives on the gothic pop of the early 1980"s. This isn"t the new wave strain that all the other retro-synthetic pop bands seem to cling to these days; this is the slightly more obscure brand that can be heard on albums like Japanese Whispers by The Cure and Movement by New Order.

One trick that Vitesse should probably learn from Stephin Merritt is how to leave the listener wanting. If there"s a complaint to be lodged, it"s that Vitesse"s songs tend to peak and then outstay their welcome. Repetition is an essential tool for this kind of pop, I fully understand, but many of these songs could be edited down by handfuls of seconds if not whole minutes. However, I could listen to the sweet, sad refrain of "Starlight" all day long. The same goes for the duo"s ethereal cover of OMD"s "Late Morning" because of Ruth Welte"s lovely guest vocals.

Introspective techno-pop is a tired genre, and, at first, Vitesse sounds like just another gray stone among the many, but closer inspection reveals a carefully crafted string of exquisite melodies. Borrowed or not, these melodies sink in, give you goose bumps, and demand repeat listens. Vitesse has, on its third album, achieved a consistency that speaks highly of its future. Do seek this out.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Relative Ways/Homage Ep (Interscope)

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Relative Ways/Homage Ep …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Relative Ways/Homage Ep
Interscope
By: Eric Greenwood

If this EP is any indication, the major label debut full-length from this Austin quartet will be its most stunning yet. The mark of adolescent influences is much more distant this time, so the Sonic Youth references will be fewer and fewer when the flood of reviews commences. The band"s urgency is its greatest weapon, and its flashy dynamics pave the way. Conrad Keely"s voice is smallish and nasally but when he screams he takes no prisoners. The guitar work is particularly beautiful. Melodic and harsh in the same instant.

Relative Ways exemplifies the band"s growth in songwriting. The loud/soft dynamic has blurred into a complex beast that could burst in either direction without jarring the listener. That is not to say that the band has smoothed over its edges- far from it; it"s just grown by leaps and bounds musically. That"s typically a death knell for a punk band, but the Trail Of Dead has never lumped itself in such a limiting category. These guys are serious about their music, which always carries with it a trace of pretension, but the Trail Of Dead wears it well.

"Homage" is far more terrifying, musically. Ripping into a shredded wall of guitars, Jason Reece shrieks with a gruff, scratchy voice that sounds strained and abused just the way it should. The build-up is backwards, moving from loud to soft and back again into a climax that should have you punching a hole in the wall. There"s no faking the desperation in his voice when Reece screams "do you believe what I say?" like his life depends upon the answer. All the feedback and all the noise is ferocious. Reece"s songs are usually much tamer than this, but I"m certainly not complaining.

"Blood Rites" is Keely"s turn to scare the shit out of the listener. His scream has never known such depths. The blood lust recalls Kurt Cobain"s possessed shriek on Bleach. The untamable guitars are charged and churning in your ears recklessly, leaving you thirsty for more. "The Blade Runner" is an experimental throwaway, like the interludes from the band"s previous two albums. Minimal and textured- it wilts numbingly for four minutes, which is just the amount of time you need to come down from the three songs prior. Bring on the full-length.

Le Tigre, Feminist Sweepstakes (Mr. Lady)

Le Tigre - Feminist Sweepstakes Le Tigre
Feminist Sweepstakes
Mr. Lady
By: Eric Greenwood

Unfortunately picking up where this year"s half-assed EP, From The Desk Of Mr. Lady, left off, New York City"s favorite lesbian trio, Le Tigre, struggles to capture any of the energy or fun of its outstanding 1999 debut. The formula, however, is identical to its full-length predecessor: deliberately ape-simple song structures, primitive drum machines, distorted vocals, and ranting left wing lyrics. If these are the same ingredients as the good album, then how could this be so boring? Apparently, the band ran out of ideas and forgot how to write songs.

Feminist Sweepstakes sounds exactly like what it is (three non-musicians tinkering aimlessly with vintage equipment and second-rate ideas). On the band"s debut, the lack of musicianship was easily overlooked by way of charm and kitsch and ace melodies, but now Le Tigre slaps you in the face with its overwhelming ineptitude. Without hooks this political yammering is tough to stomach. It"s hardly shocking to be a lesbian in 2001, but Le Tigre runs through all the predictable Democrat talking points as though Tom Daschle were its renegade muse. For a band that strives for gay revolution, it sure is awfully safe in its scope.

In the song "F.Y.R." the initials stand for "fifty years of ridicule." Boo-hoo. Of all the social outcasts deserving some sort of sympathy, privileged white lesbians are at the bottom of the list. Vocalist Kathleen Hanna lets drop such nauseating couplets as: "while you were on vacation/black people didn"t get reparations." Ugh. Hanna"s sloganeering is bitter and sad, and it"s taken over her sense of humor. Apart from the self-deprecating wit of "LT Tour Theme" ("for the ladies and the fags, yeah/we"re the band with the roller-skate jams"), Feminist Sweepstakes exposes Hanna"s hand, and it"s full of shit. She prefers the stump to good songs, and obviously that makes for a poor listening experience.

Le Tigre"s novelty has worn off. Two dead-on-arrival releases in a row are enough evidence for me. There are a few brief glimpses of the Le Tigre that was once so charmingly disarming, though. The stilted post-punk guitar work on "On Guard" is the perfect backdrop for Hanna"s defensive wailing ("I guess feeling good was my first mistake"), and "My Art" showcases her ability to present a genuine girlish innocence (I don"t care you sing such a winner"s song/I won"t respond") before the aggression kicks in ("and if you ever wanna try y[ou]r hand at forcing my suicide/come on, fucker, reach out for the sun"). It"s all in the melodies. Too bad Feminist Sweepstakes barely has any.

The Nectarine No. 9, Received Transgressed (Beggars Banquet/creeping Bent)

The Nectarine No. 9 - Received Transgressed The Nectarine No. 9
Received Transgressed
Beggars Banquet/creeping Bent
By: Eric Greenwood

Labeling pop music "experimental" is always a gamble. Pop music by definition is, well, popular, but the term has been bastardized to mean any music laden with hooks and/or catchy choruses, as you well know. In some circles experimental pop is known simply as indie pop or, rather, music that"s too rough around the edges to be popular but still catchy on some level. In other circles experimental pop can mean the psychedelic musings of a lunatic like Syd Barrett or the avant-garde freakouts of bands such as The Mothers Of Invention or Captain Beefheart. Scotland"s The Nectarine No. 9 falls somewhere in the midst of all this lazy pigeonholing.

Since 1993 The Nectarine No. 9 has released four albums, three of which were on tiny labels (two on Postcard, one on Creeping Bent) and been heralded by the British press as nothing short of pure genius. Take that for what you will. The band"s fourth album is its major label debut. How this band convinced a major label to distribute such anti-commercial music confounds me. Add to that the fact that the band never tours, and I"m doubly puzzled. Well, it has toured once in its eight-year existence (with Edwyn Collins of all people), but that"s hardly enough to spread the word. Commercial radio certainly wouldn"t touch this with a stick.

The Nectarine No. 9 builds its music around ideas instead of traditional song formulas. These ideas stem from disparate but "important" influences, all of which can be lumped into the "experimental" category. The opener, "Pong Fat 6", is an unruly mess. Squawking, detuned guitars splay above a fuzzed-out bass line and primitive drums. It sounds like an outtake from some anonymous 1960"s garage band. It"s by far the worst song on the album, so, naturally, The Nectarine No. 9 chooses it as the first song on its major label debut. "Susan Identifier" is a whole different story. Singer Davey Henderson croons over this slow burner, but your typical ballad this is not. Space-age effects cover the guitars, which bleat wildly in the background. Piano and drums shuffle in a cliched bar blues setting. Worlds collide. Then the song takes a sharp right turn into straight-laced pop. It"s not randomly thrown together, but it"s not conventional songwriting either.

"Constellations Of A Vanity" is a soulful sing-along, complete with xylophone and ensemble back-up vocals. The lo-fi guitar work recalls mid-period Pavement, but the vocals sound like what might happen if Mark E. Smith did a lot of ecstasy. Wacked-out, drugged-out, loopy melodies abound. The creepy soul-drenched "Foundthings" sounds dirty and exciting like the production on John Lennon"s Abbey Road contributions. If you"re not freaked out when Henderson whispers "show me your favorite holes/I can dig in", then you might be more than a little weird. I am curious to know what drugs caused him to utter: "found things in your car/found things on a star/found things in the shower/found things on a flower." The sneaky bass and drums hold the song together, but everything else is chaos. Guitars squall, keyboards blare. It does make for some intriguing sounds, however.

The happy-go-lucky racket of "It"s Raining For Some Cloudy Reasons" is a bit of a masturbatory indulgence. Beneath all the clutter is some sort of hippie commune chorus of "there is a silver moon." Light feedback, horns, and plonking percussion sound drunkenly thrown together. It"s a song Soul Junk most likely would have thrown away in 1995, if that better puts it in perspective. The sinister gallop "Look At My Sleeves They Fall Down" is a Mercury Rev-style accident. It"s audio exploratory surgery but without any goal, as the band slices open an idea and digs around in it for five minutes or so. If it finds something worth repeating, it does ad nauseum. The same can be said of Received Transgressed & Transmitted as a whole. It"s not a fun album, but oftentimes difficult music begets long-term rewards. I’ve yet to discover enough to recommend this wholeheartedly, but I"ll let you know if anything changes.

Bis, Music For A Stranger World (Wiiija)

Bis - Music For A Stranger World Bis
Music For A Stranger World
Wiiija
By: Eric Greenwood

As if you weren"t sick enough of 1980"s Eurotrash pop- Bis offers up this obnoxiously giddy EP as a precursor to its latest full-length. Thanks for the warning. Bis celebrates everything that was wrong with the bombastic pop of the 1980"s on these six songs, which are all completely unlistenable. If snorting glucose while watching Fox Kids fills some sort of void in your life then Bis" Music For A Stranger World might be the perfect soundtrack for you. Otherwise, if you have a low tolerance for mindless pop, stay far, far away from this cheesy schlock.

Gang Of Four, Entertainment (EMI International)

Gang Of Four - Entertainment Gang Of Four
Entertainment
EMI International
By: Eric Greenwood

Released in 1979, Gang Of Four’s Entertainment is the quintessential post punk album, representing the first marriage of punk, funk, and politics that actually worked. The band’s trademark sound fused a tight rhythm section with unorthodox harmonies and searing, staccato guitars.

The band’s use of sarcasm and hyperbole in its political rants made Gang Of Four’s music hard for the masses to swallow. The band only reached the UK Top Forty once with the single “At Home He’s A Tourist” and lost its big chance to cast a wider net when it was banned from performing on Britain’s Tops Of The Pops for refusing to remove the word “rubbers” from its lyrics.

Politicizing is not the essence of Gang Of Four, however. The bitterness is couched by a thinly veiled sense of humor, but the music counters any sense of disingenuousness. The group’s passion and energy spews forth in sharp, angular bursts thanks to Andy Gill’s expertly timed guitar work and Jon King’s mannered inflection.

The band’s use of modern imagery works well against the machine-like rhythms, particularly on the classic, “Damaged Goods” as well as “Guns And Butter” and “Anthrax.” Jon King’s brash, affected vocals relay his frustration and anger without going over the top: “Your kiss so sweet/Your sweat so sour/Sometimes I’m thinking that I love you/But I know it’s only lust” (“Damaged Goods”). His harmonies display a keen sense of melody hidden beneath the carefully structured anti-pop.

Gang Of Four’s influence looms largely today. Bands from Fugazi to Shellac take cues from Gang Of Four’s patented, herky-jerky dynamic. Sadly, the quality of the band’s output suffered with each successive release, leaving Entertainment as its one truly great album.