Clinic, Winchester Cathedral (Domino)

Clinic - Winchester Cathedral Clinic
Winchester Cathedral
Domino
By: Eric Greenwood

Much like The Fall, Clinic suffers from a one-dimensional palette. That's not a death-knell by any means. The Fall has made a multi-decade career out of it. And much like that band's enduring antics, the experimental nature of Clinic's deliberately off-kilter tunes is becoming increasingly like a one-trick pony. The band's early singles and even its debut, Internal Wrangler, showed promise above and beyond the mystery that shrouds its spiky, reverb-drenched guitars, inverted surf doom, and jittery paranoia. But for the long-awaited Winchester Cathedral, Clinic has chosen merely to paint with not only the same brush but also the same paint.

It's frustrating to listen to a band run in place, especially when the expectations are so much higher. Clinic has run its scrubs schtick into the ground, and its musical persona isn't far behind. That is not to say that Winchester Cathedral is without merit. On the opener, "Country Mile", lead singer Ade Blackburn sounds like a hobbit with his jaw sewn shut, as his creepy voice hisses above wiry, strangled guitar jabs. The anticipatory tension builds without release. "Circle of Fifths" broadens the musical landscape in tiny steps, incorporating piano into the macabre melodies. Blackburn's indecipherable yammer is still intriguing, though not as arresting as it once was

Too much of Winchester Cathedral plays a slight of hand. It's a never-ending tease disguised as substance. Waiting for Clinic to break through the games and actually deliver something that isn't detached or hidden behind its calculated image grows tiresome. From the distant clatter of clarinets in "The Magician" to the soulful sway of "Falstaff", Clinic at least tries to infuse new blood into its veins. The latter song, incidentally, is the album's highlight, as Blackburn's creepy cooing recalls an amalgamation of schmaltzy crooners of '70's soul. It's like a snake trying to be sexy: painfully uncomfortable but you don't want to turn away for fear of being bitten.

The album is far too short to drag like it does in spots ("Vertical Takeoff from Egypt"). The anxiousness of its early days has been replaced with a sense of safety and complacency in its insular weirdness. You can sense that the band wants to break out of its shell but only threatens to do so for fear of breaking the spell. Even with budding classics like the Kid A-esque "Thank You (For Living)" with its sinewy guitars and dancey propulsion, Winchester Cathedral is a lateral move. For the band's early hype to fulfill its promise, the next record can't hide behind smoke and mirrors.

Snoop Dogg, R (Star Track/Geffen)

Snoop Dogg - R Snoop Dogg
R
Star Track/Geffen
By: Eric Greenwood

It's amazing how much of a joke Snoop Dogg has become since his explosion to greatness on Dr. Dre's The Chronic twelve years ago. His slithering vocal cadence was tough yet smooth, and, despite the fact that he looked like he weighed maybe 90 pounds, he still managed to seem intimidating with his aloof cool. A rap for murder didn't hurt his gangster image, either. These days, no one fears Snoop Dogg. He's a cartoon. He produces bad porn. He guest stars on anyone's albums. Seriously, call him. He'll probably guest on your record, too. Needless to say, he's completely lost his touch. This album is a sad stab at gimmicky duets with Justin Timberlake and obnoxious production by The Neptunes.

Eminem, Encore (Interscope)

Eminem - Encore Eminem
Encore
Interscope
By: Eric Greenwood

I hate Eminem. I think he's a complete jackass, but I can't deny his rapping skills. Yeah, all of his singles sound like lame carnival music with goofy voice-overs, but his rhymes are insanely clever. His subjects have always been easy targets just as his insults were cheap shots, but he wove them all together so tightly it was almost impossible to call him out. Until now. Encore is Eminem's first serious stumble. It's trite rehash after trite rehash followed by pointless filler. Lyrically, he's still pretty much just poking a retarded girl with a stick underneath his cowardly layers of meta-dialogue, but his grouses are so petty, it's nearly impossible to empathize.

The Verve, This Is Music: The Singles 92-98 (Virgin)

The Verve - This Is Music: The Singles 92-98 The Verve
This Is Music: The Singles 92-98
Virgin
By: Eric Greenwood

The Verve's noisy interpretation of England's Northern Soul movement evolved from a mountainous shoegazer wall of sound into a folksy, retrofitted stab at '60's psychedelia. And somewhere along the way, the band grew into its grandly melodramatic ideas. Richard Ashcroft became a natural leader with his plaintive singing and cocksure attitude, and the band's notorious drug intake fueled the mystery behind the collective muse. Since the band only improved with age, this singles collection is a bit bottom-heavy. The Verve imploded acrimoniously just as "Bittersweet Symphony" exploded onto mainstream America in 1997, but there's plenty more where that came from.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Worlds Apart (Interscope)

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead
Worlds Apart
Interscope
By: Eric Greenwood

Maturity sucks. Why do rock bands feel the need to mature? It's a disease that almost every musician that maintains any semblance of longevity suffers. That need to show the world how multifaceted your talents are is irresistible. The pressure to do something different drives the ego to dangerous lengths. There were signs, of course, that…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead might take this road eventually. The dense minutiae of its cerebral cum gothic artwork, the experimental interludes between songs, the showy, overblown titles…the map pretty much led right up to Worlds Apart, if you read it carefully.

Almost three years have passed since the band released its colossal third album, Source Tags & Codes. That album perfected a galloping wall of sound comprised of equal parts reckless punk rock abandon and gut-punching sincerity. The follow-up EP, The Secret of Elena's Tomb, didn't do much to further the agenda, however, as it relied more on retreaded ideas than it did envelope pushing ones. On Worlds Apart Trail of Dead sounds utterly reinvigorated yet dangerously reinvented. The soundscape has moved from familiar post-punk architecture to a more traditional British bar rock sound. That is not to say the band has dulled its edges completely (though it’s pretty close); it's simply become slightly more tuneful, while losing its intensity altogether.

Conrad Keely has always been the band's focal point, yet he is obviously not a great singer. He's an excellent songwriter and an amazing screamer, but his singing voice is impish when it's given too much space. Plus, he's damaged his voice badly from years of throaty screams, and you can hear the vibrations on his nodes when he tries to sustain certain notes. The cracks in his voice actually become endearing after a while, but the singing bogs down most of the songs, which, ironically for this band, tend to need more adrenaline. Unfortunately, the screams have been tapered to the point of practical non-existence (that's what happens when punk bands "evolve"). Keely sings most of this record, for better or worse (worse). His pitch is iffy and inconsistent, and his ideas and melodies only make up for some of the technical deficiencies.

Worlds Apart will undoubtedly shock longtime fans with its throttled back guitars and smoothed-over dynamics. It's a difficult record to grow into, especially when your expectations are completely thrown off track by the subdued atmospherics. This is not the Trail of Dead that destroys its equipment and every club it plays. This is the Trail of Dead that feels the need to prove itself musically, so instead of noisy feedback and cryptic chants interlocking the songs, we have haughty, orchestral interludes, choirs of back-up soul singers (a very bad sign), and full-blown progressive-rock arrangements. Keely's obviously always been mystified by the pretentious inanity of 70's prog-rock, so the latter should be of no surprise, but in the context of an entire album it wears thinly.

And consistent with all the unchecked pretension, Keely has adopted some inexplicable form of a fake British accent with which he sings about very un-prog, un-goth, and un-punk topics like celebrities and MTV. The first single, Worlds Apart, sounds like a rough-hewn British bar band. A do what now? The hook is there, but sloppy Oasis is not what the doctor ordered. And when did Trail of Dead get so happy? I'm not one to put creative limitations on a band, but there are contexts that work with an aesthetic and clearly ones that don't. The band is called …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, for fuck's sake. The Cure answered its suicidal, overcoat-donning saps with ludicrous pop singles when it got boxed into a corner creatively, and it worked. But as far as I can tell, Trail of dead isn't going for extreme irony or any image busting. This is supposed to be growth.

The opening riff of "Will You Smile Again" packs a dynamic punch in line with Trail of Dead's pivotal urgency, but the song derails into a loopy, incomprehensible ballad, wherein Keely waxes nonsensical for way too long before the rock kicks back in. "Summer of '91" is nostalgic balladry best left for b-sides. "The Rest Will Follow" is the album's finest offering. It's an anthem to be sure, replete with punchy, shout-along backing vocals and memorable riffs galore. "Caterwaul" is drummer Jason Reece's first contribution to the record, and it pales compared to his typically arresting songwriting. Even his growling voice sounds limp. It's watered down Trail of Dead.

"Let It Dive" is as sentimental as the band gets. Keely's songwriting skills are inarguably consistent, though, as this song's hummable chorus will attest. The recessive guitars that used to explode now simply fade away. The altered dynamic leaves something to be desired. The album's second attempt at an anthem falls flat on its face. "The Best" is cloying and annoying and repetitive beyond all need. As Keely shouts "the best" over and over, it almost sounds like a bad Mountain Dew commercial.

I love this band, so it pains me to report that Worlds Apart isn't going to blow your mind. Admittedly, I'm still trying to warm up to it, but even after countless spins, I still don't like the taste in my mouth. I understand the band's need to open itself up creatively; I just wish it had retained its momentum and extremism along the way.

Death From Above 1979, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine (Vice)

Death From Above 1979 - You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine Death From Above 1979
You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine
Vice
By: Eric Greenwood

Can something even be classified as metal without any guitars? Sure can. And if you don't believe me, listen to You're A Woman, I'm A Machine. This Canadian bass and drums duo pounds and plunders its way through a frantic string of bombastic, blistering rock songs on its Vice debut. Similar to notorious noisemakers Lightning Bolt only in instrumentation and ferocity, Death From Above 1979 adds listenability and form to the table of noise. These songs will undoubtedly knock the wind out of you, but for every dynamic explosion or screeching wall of noise there's an infectious hook in tow. Borderline castrato vocals and melodic screams anchor each song. The attitude is brutal and the presentation is uncompromising, but, unlike most metal, there's actually substance to all of the racket. This album fucking rules.

Nirvana, With The Lights Out (DGC)

Nirvana - With The Lights Out Nirvana
With The Lights Out
DGC
By: Eric Greenwood

I'm always puzzled and annoyed when reviewers say that a box set might not be for casual fans. No shit. It's a box set. It's clearly not designed for casual fans. So, casual Nirvana fans can stop reading. Geffen is either plundering the Cobain estate for any scraps it can possibly exploit, or Courtney Love needs some more plastic surgery. Regardless, this collection is the antithesis of anything Kurt Cobain would have authorized, right down to the shiny metal packaging. It's so slick it would have made him sick and fueled his guilt over his fledgling indie rock credibility.

There's little new here, aside from acoustic versions of songs you already know. Some of the early live jams are funny- like in the middle of the cover of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" when someone yells out "do the badass solo" and Kurt Cobain proceeds to spew nonsense from his guitar. The one song I didn't already know, "Do Re Mi" was recorded acoustically just a few weeks before Cobain shot himself in the face, and it's eerie and sort of creepy to have insight into something that was obviously never meant for public consumption. And that goes for the whole box set.