Music Reviews

‘Holy Wood,’ Marilyn Manson (Nothing/Interscope) 3 stars

Marilyn Manson songs are the rock’n’roll equivalent of those silly ‘scrambled poetry’ magnets that people stick on their refrigerators. You know, that deal where they give you a bunch of words, each of ’em on its own separate little magnet, and you combine those words any way you want to create your own, well, poetry, of a sort. Then you take those very same words and rearrange them, and presto, you’ve got a brand new, um, poem. Marilyn’s set of poetry magnets, much to his good fortune, seems to be chock full of angry-teen buzzwords like ‘authority,’ ‘religion,’ ‘television,’ ‘hate,’ ‘government,’ ‘abortion,’ ‘crucifixion,’ – and oh yes, lest we forget: ‘death.’ And so it goes, arrange and rearrange, pushing all the right buttons for the hormonally frustrated but basically clueless mallrats of America, topping it off with those goofy contact lenses — all the better to see that allowance money you’ve brought to the record store, my dear. More than a few misguided folks are crowing that Marilyn has written some actual songs this time, but give the, er, devil his due: Manson has always been good for two or three fist-pumping anthems per disc, and this one’s no different. It ain’t bad, and it sure ain’t evil, but I still wouldn’t be caught dead with it past junior year of high school.

‘The W,’ Wu-Tang Clan (Loud/Columbia) 6.5 stars

The latest from rap’s supergroup seems bound to frustrate everyone — both the haters who have been ready to stick a fork in them since their solo discs started to grow lackluster, and the supporters who have been chomping for a return to form based on RZA’s knockout soundtrack to ‘Ghost Dog.’ This is the kind of record where the one sure-fire classic — a bustling slice of ’60s cool called ‘Gravel Pit,’ which sounds like RZA’s take on an old Bond flick theme song — gets buried in the 12th slot out of 13 tracks. Elsewhere the Wu crew scores by incorporating mournful soul (‘Hollow Bones’) and righteous island rhythms (‘One Blood Under W’), and prove they can still bang with the best of them on ‘Do You Really (Thang, Thang).’ But the beats are sparse to the point of listlessness on other tracks, and there aren’t nearly enough of the dizzying collaborations that have been this group’s signature move. Docked half a star for some very brief, yet altogether inexcusable, misogyny and homophobia.

‘Things Falling Apart,’ Nine Inch Nails (Nothing/Interscope) 1 star

Talk about your lazy, crass, just plain audacious maneuvers: Trent Reznor spends the entire past year doing what – keeping those dreamy locks trimmed just right? –and then he tries to foist this lame disc of remixes from ‘The Fragile’ upon his fans – just in time for holiday shopping, to boot. It isn’t any more opportunistic than churning out a lame greatest hits disc for Christmas, I guess, except that at least hardcore fans know they can usually take a pass on those compilations without missing much. Well, the only thing you’ll be missing if you (wisely) take a pass on this stinker is plenty of evidence that ol’ Trent can make electronic music that’s just as boring as the stuff churned out by the professional knob-twiddlers. A few of these mixes manage to eek out a whiff of menace, but nowhere near enough to justify the creation, let alone the purchase, of this thing.

‘Blur: The Best Of,’ Blur (Virgin) 4 stars

It’s always been tempting to see Blur as Britpop’s answer to the Jam, big stars across the pond but always second-fiddling in America to Oasis, just as Paul Weller and company labored in the shadow of the Clash. (There are several problems with that comparison, natch, not the least of which being that it’s downright blasphemous to even mention the brothers Gallagher in the same sentence as Strummer/Jones. But I digress.) This is pretty much the standard Christmas greatest hits cash-grab, 17 old tracks and one new one, with a standard industry lure for skeptical longtime fans: Buy it now, since early copies contain a bonus 10-track live disc. As for the main course, it’s almost too easy to simply dismiss these fey Brit popsters, with their unintentionally hilarious ‘Beetlebum,’ their decidedly unfunny attempt at goofing (‘Parklife’), and all of those dreary Wembley Arena sing-along power ballads. (Blur as Britpop’s answer to REO Speedwagon – now we’re getting somewhere.) Still, they proved they could nick Nirvana as well as anyone else with ‘Song 2’ (you know, that ‘whoo-hoo!’ song), while ‘There’s No Other Way’ is the best Jesus Jones song since, well, that one Jesus Jones song. Buy it now, or you’ll be forced to wait for the big Time-Life Britpop collection.

‘Tender Is The Savage,’ Gluecifer (Sub Pop) 8 stars

My, the boys from Urge Overkill must be kicking themselves. Poor Nash Kato and Eddie Roeser slug it out in obscurity in Chicago’s B-grade clubs, desperately flagging their respective new projects, while a whole army of Foghat-Come-Latelys makes a break for the bank with Urge’s retro rawk shtick. And just to rub a little salt in their collective wound, many of these mutton-chop rockers aren’t even able to sing along with that genre touchstone, ‘We’re an American Band.’ Gluecifer hails from Norway, of all places, but there’s apparently no shortage of MC5, Stooges or Kiss records over there, as these guys fit right in with our home-bred ’70s simulators. In fact, it’s pretty easy to argue that they deserve a spot right at the front of the pack. Everyone’s been going on and on about how the Queens of the Stone Age have figured out a way to slow this stuff down a bit and make it sexy, but Gluecifer has learned a lesson from those O.G. copycats in the Black Crowes: Velocity, when used as a lubricant, can be sexy too.

‘Here Comes Death,’ Speedealer (Palm) 8 stars

If this one doesn’t clear your sinuses, you may have pneumonia. Hailing from Lubbock, Texas, Speedealer blazes away like some bastard child of Motorhead and the Ramones on this reissued second disc. (Their last label went belly-up just after it originally came out in ’99.) Mixed marriages of metal and punk have been around since the days when Beavis was flashing the devil horns, but rarely has anyone hammered out such a combination of muscle and speed without completely sacrificing the over-16 audience. Credit just a bit of ’70s rawk moxie; see the quote from Aerosmith’s ‘Mama Kin’ for proof. The occasional throat-shredding vocal doesn’t quite work when the band starts grinding out a Sabbath-type dirge, but that’s the only complaint here. Their upcoming third disc should be one to watch for.


(Our guide to the essential, sometimes overlooked components of a wisely stocked CD collection.)

Everyone can rattle off the players in New York’s first punk wave – from the Velvets and Dolls through the Ramones, Richard Hell and Television – but the L.A. pioneers generally haven’t been getting the same kind of media face time in recent years. Rhino Records might help rectify that situation with a slew of reissues from the seminal Slash label, home to some of that era’s essential recordings. The can’t-miss item here for any self-respecting punk is ‘Germs (MIA): The Complete Anthology,’ which collects practically everything you’d need from this fierce and chaotic band. Fronted by the late wildman Darby Crash and boasting future Foo Fighter Pat Smears on guitar, the Germs started off as an amusing mess but quickly secured a spot in punk history with their landmark ‘G.I.’ disc – which is included in its entirety here, along with some singles and soundtrack work. The heavy hitter on the L.A. scene, though, was X, and when they decided to take a busman’s holiday and record a country album with Dave Alvin of the Blasters, they did it on Slash as the Knitters. Their one disc, ‘Poor Little Critter On The Road’ only succumbs to kitsch when X’s Exene Cervenka sings solo. When she sings with partner John Doe – or, even better, when Doe sings alone – the result is as great as it is unexpected. Doe’s cover of Merle Haggard’s ‘Silver Wings’ is lovely, while ‘Crying But My Tears Are Far Away,’ co-written by Doe and Cervenka, is the best country song ever penned by non-country ‘outsiders.’ The high-profile item here, however, comes not out of L.A. but Wisconsin: the reissue of the self-titled debut from the Violent Femmes. Long a rite of passage for college freshmen, it’s bolstered by the inclusion of a pair of bonus tracks, one of which is the gleeful and irreverentsingle ‘Ugly.’ But ‘gleeful and irreverent’ weren’t exactly the words used to describe the Femmes’ follow-up disc, ‘Hallowed Ground,’ a spooky mediation on death, religion and loneliness that left most of the band’s fans either yawning or embittered. Surprise: Fifteen years later, it sounds surprisingly good, a nervy albeit imperfect disc that nevertheless nicely predates some of the recent roots-music obsession with old-time folk and country death songs. Finally, for a guilt-free hoot, there’s ‘The Record,’ from the likeable party punks in Fear. They might have sung ‘Let’s Have A War,’ but mostly this was genial, amateurish, beer-swilling punk. Give ’em credit, though, for the funky squawk of the divinely titled ‘New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones.’


A few folks have been whining that the songs on ‘Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska’ (Sub Pop) don’t measure up to the originals. Well, what were you expecting, cheese – ‘Nebraska’ only stands as one of Springsteen’s three or four unqualified masterpieces. No one on any kind of tribute disc is going to cut the Boss on this stuff; at best you’re looking for interpretations that find a new sound but remain true to the original’s spirit. To that end, you get Chrissie Hynde slowly, slowly unraveling ‘Nebraska,’ Crooked Fingers bathing ‘Mansion On The Hill’ in shimmering synths, and Johnny Cash taking command on the bonus track ‘I’m On Fire’ – included because it was written during the Nebraska sessions. Only Hank Williams III and Deana Carter really make a mess of things … Not surprisingly, less is often more with tribute discs. The Right Stuff label has taken a two-disc Springsteen tribute disc from a few years back, trimmed much of the fat off of it, and reissued it as a single disc called ‘The Songs Of Bruce Springsteen.’ The Smithereens and Tina ‘ the B-Side Movement are as pedestrian as ever, but Joe Grushecky (‘Light Of Day’), Dave Alvin (‘Seeds’) and Ben E. King (‘4th Of July, Asbury Park’) make this lesser-known disc as enjoyable as the higher-profile ‘Badlands’ … With his pioneering roles in cool jazz and modal playing, Miles Davis established his legend upon his uncanny ability to take serious risks – and be proven right over time. His early ’70s experiments in electronic jazz and fusion didn’t pan out as well, but a new series of reissues from Columbia/Legacy shows that even here Davis created some fine, though not essential, records. Foremost among these are the funky ‘On The Corner’ and the double-disc ‘Big Fun,’ which sound not unlike Davis being backed by Sly Stone’s band – all slippery rhythms and fat guitar lines, interrupted occasionally by Davis’ thin, muted trumpet sound. The double-disc ‘Get Up With It’ is more problematic: The terse funk is augmented by snatches of raunchy rock (!), but two 30-minute cuts meander in the stereotypical manner of mediocre fusion. Only ‘Aura’ comes off as a total bust, with its attempt to incorporate classical music forms sounding patchwork and uninspired. Fusion heads will be further buoyed by the reissue of the sprawling and accomplished self-titled disc from the late bass wunderkind Jaco Pastorius. And traditionalists can smile too, as the label offers the new compilation ‘Blue Miles,’ featuring classic pre-fusion Davis songs like ”Round Midnight’ and ‘Blue In Green’ … The moody sound of Son Volt meets the rowdy side of the Bottle Rockets on Slobberbone’s glorious ‘Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today’ (New West). Frontman Brent Best sounds like a gruff cynic on boozy breakup anthems like ‘Gimme Back My Dog,’ which is of course just another way of saying that he’s yet another wounded romantic … Old folkie John Prine pumps new life into re-recordings of 15 of his great story-songs, including the all-time classic ‘Angel From Montgomery,’ on ‘Souvenirs’ (Oh Boy Records) … Lesser-known tunesmith Geoff Muldaur (yeah, his ex sang ‘Midnight At The Oasis’) continues his comeback with the cozy ‘Password’ (Hightone), which combines his sharp folk with some unexpectedly adroit swaying soul … Sonny Landreth remains best known as the amazing slide guitarist in John Hiatt’s band, the Goners. But on his new ‘Levee Town’ (Sugar Hill), Landreth competently takes center stage on Cajun romps, waltzes that recall the Band, and some roadhouse burners that, naturally, feature that slide guitar. Not an instant classic, but plenty solid … A pair of best-of discs on the Yazoo label will get you hep to two first-generation blues heroes: Blind Blake played a sprightly, jazzy guitar; Dylan fans will recognize ‘You Gonna Quit Me Blues.’ Blind Lemon Jefferson, meanwhile, was the whole package – a skilled guitarist, an arresting vocalist and the writer of classics like ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’ … Longtime indie Delmark collects a batch of fiery tracks from the renowned Big Walter Horton, and a few by Alfred Harris, on ‘Harmonica Blues Kings,’ then rounds up a who’s who of the harp (Junior Wells, Little Walter, et. al.) on the compilation ‘This Is The Blues Harmonica’ … With artists like Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and Ike ‘ Tina Turner, the ‘Drivin’ Blues’ compilation (32 Blues) plays like a fine homemade road tape – except you didn’t have to go through all the bother of making it … Before Keith Whitley drank himself to death in ’89, he had earned himself a reputation as one of the last hard-country heroes in Nashville. Rounder has reissued one of his earlier works, with some bonus tracks, under the title ‘Sad Songs ‘ Waltzes.’ It isn’t a perfect disc, but the covers of ‘I Never Go Around Mirrors’ and ‘Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind’ certainly back up his stellar reputation … Someone else said it first: The country mega-star most likely to eventually be mentioned years from now in the same breath as George Jones and Merle Haggard is the unassuming traditionalist George Straitt. Newcomers should start with one of his hits collections, but Straitt’s new self-titled disc (MCA) boasts a few fine singles, along with some less enthralling filler.