I was sort of frightened when I heard that Manson was leaning toward a more techno sound with this album, and that the products of some collaboration between Marilyn and Billy Corgan would find their way to the album (I loathe the Pumpkins "new direction," as it were). Thankfully, the brouhaha was all for naught. This entry into the "madness" that is Marilyn Manson still delivers as well as any devout fan would wish, but the coup de grace of Mechanical Animals is that the band manages to do that while making their sound a little more commercially palatable. Perhaps it is due to the lack of Trent Reznor's production on this album, but gone for the most part are the staccato, jerky guitar riffs (which I liked, don't get me wrong) and shrill, unsettling delivery that Manson sometimes employed. The end result is (dare I?) more radio-friendly. Marilyn Manson also continue on in the vein of Antichrist Superstar in that they have another identity on this album as Omega and the Mechanical Animals. This is the slinky jaguar foil to the rabid dog that the band used to be. Just as threatening, but more subversively so. And, I'm sure even avid churchgoers will enjoy the track "I Don't Like the Drugs, But the Drugs Like Me" which features, of all things, a gospel choir style chorus along with a guest guitar solo by Dave Navarro. If nothing else, get the album for all of the Rose McGowan references. (For all of you freako numerologists, note that the 'I' in Mechanical Animals is a '1,' and the 'S' is a 5. The album was released on the 15th of this month, Omega is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, there's a song called "New Model #15" on the album, and the album was originally supposed to have 15 tracks. Now go impress your friends.) (MHo)
The Masters of the Hemisphere
"Going On A Trek To Iceland"
I was envious of these folks from the first time I ever even saw this record, just because they managed to think up the coolest fucking band name I've seen in years...and then I listened to the record itself, and became just positively jealous. The title song is an amazing, short little pop gem about, well, pretty much what the name says. Anyway, it's pure pop, airy & bright, and it's infectious as hell. The flipside, "On the Streets the Key," doesn't do quite as well, unfortunately -- it's not bad, really (although the slightly-out-of-tune vocals bug me, I'll admit), but it doesn't grab my attention in quite the same way; just another melancholy pop song, y'know? But hey, I'd've paid more than just a few bucks to hear "Iceland," anyway... (JH)
(Kindercore Records -- P.O. Box 461, Athens, GA. 30603)
In an underground filled with "emo" bands, Mineral have always stood out in my mind as the definition of the term; I don't mean that they necessarily mean that to everybody, mind you, but they do to me. Their songs are melodic and introspective, meandering from distortion-drenched fury to delicate single notes, with emotive vocals and just a general veil of loss and regret thrown over everything. When the vocals soar, I feel tears well up in my eyes -- on this album, the pleading chorus of "Gjs" truly gets to me: "Turn around, Dad/I hope that you can be proud of me" (and sometimes it gets to me even when I can't understand what they're singing). That ability to provoke feeling, to me, is "emo," and I don't think it should be considered a genre so much as a quality of the music (I mean, hey, the soundtrack to The Last of the Mohicans affects me the same way, and I definitely don't think Daniel Lanois is emo).
Labels aside, this is just good music. On their second and final full-length (I know a few members have gone on to form The Gloria Record, and maybe a few other bands, as well), Mineral step past their past efforts, to produce an absolutely majestic album of melodic rock. I must admit I'm not real big on the spiritual theme that seems to run through EndSerenading, but the lyrics are ambiguous enough that it doesn't matter. The album reminds me surprisingly of Seam at points, particularly in "Unfinished" and the opener, "LoveLetterTypewriter," and "&Serenading" even moves close to gospel, but the result is still distinctly Mineral (see "Palisade" and "Sounds Like Sunday"). This is partly due, I think, to their distinctive vocals, which have actually "developed" a bit since The Power of Failing (and which I, at least, don't think sound nearly as much like Sunny Day Real Estate as some of their contemporaries). I liked Failing a great deal when it came out -- and it's far from bad now -- but this is one beautiful farewell of an album. (JH)
(Crank! Records -- 1223 Wilshire Blvd. #823, Santa Monica, CA. 90403, firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.crankthis.com/)
The Lonesome Crowded West
At the other end of the spectrum from too-obscure-for-their-own-good rockers like Lotion (see elsewhere), sometimes it just plain doesn't matter if the lyrics make sense, 'cause they get lodged in your brain anyway, and you don't get a say in the matter. That's the case here, at least for me -- guitarist/singer/absolute fucking nutter Isaac Brock's lyrics make no sense whatsoever to me, but they sure as hell sound like they mean something to him, and that's what makes it work. He rages and rambles like that incoherent drunk guy down at the bus station who you can't understand -- but who's pretty damn fascinating anyway, despite his incoherence.
This album has the feel of a modern-day Western to it (and no, not the Ennio Morricone kind), with a weird, jagged edginess and a feeling of windswept roads populated only by truckers and trailer parks. Of course, I may very well be putting that together just thanks to the title of the album, but with lines like "The malls are the soon to be ghost towns" ("Teeth Like God's Shoeshine") and songs about drunk cowboys fighting the encroaching city ("Cowboy Dan"), I think I've got ample reason...
I'm told these guys sound a lot like Built To Spill, but since I have no idea what Built To Spill sound like, that comparison doesn't mean much to me, so I'll leave that one alone. My own personal comparison splices together the start-stop nature of June Of 44's less prog-rock moments with The Grifters' penchant for nonsense lyrics and weird but catchy melodies, filters it all through Drive Like Jehu, and ends up with something something surprisingly original, insane, and beautiful. (JH)
(Up Records -- P.O. Box 21328, Seattle, WA. 98111-3328)