More bitter punk rock. You know the kind where the band deems that just about everything else punk has become part of "The System" or a big fat sellout? This is it right here, buddy. In branding the current punk climate so, The Facet also eschews just about any tenets that go along with it, melody inclusive. The resultant album is a rough, abrasive indictment of trendies, frat-punks, cliques, chain wallets, spiked hair, baggy pants, piercings, jock moshers, and anything else that has become assimilated into the scene with the commercialization of punk rock. At first I didn't much care for the album, because of it's lo-fi-ness and non-melodic approach, but as I listened to (and read along, too...you know how these things can be hard to discern sometimes) I got more into the whole thing, and found myself becoming a bitter bastard, too. Vocalist Nick Kreir adds something interesting to the hardcore mix, as he also plays the baritone sax on some songs here. Not too often do you find brass accompaniment for such abrasive music. But the problem with this album, as with most double-time boom-bap-boom-bap punk rock, is that all of the songs eventually start to sound the same. Oh well, I guess this is revolutionary and anti-establishment. (MHo/Fall 1999)
(Dill Records -- P.O. Box 347388, San Francisco, CA. 94134-7388; http://www.dillnet.com/)
The Fatal Flying Guilloteens
If you've never seen Houston's Fatal Flying Guilloteens play, you're truly missing something -- these three Lone Ranger mask-wearing lunatics howl, spazz, and rock like monkeys on bad speed (well, that's what I'd imagine said monkeys might look & sound like, anyway). 'Til now they haven't had much recorded to spread their brand of garage-rock insanity (there is a very fine, ultra-lo-fi tape out, though, as well), but this long-awaited 7" does very well. I'll admit that things sound a tad too "produced" for my own personal tastes, and side A's "New Iron Fist" drags a bit, but things speed up on "La Revolucion," continue on through my all-time favorite Guilloteens track, the pounding, voodoo-ish "Electrify," on side B, and finish off with "Where the Rock Comes From" -- the lyrics to which read: "Wild West Coast! Repeat Until Unconscious." You trulY can't stop the rock. (JH/Spring 1999)
(Twistworthy Records -- P.O. Box 4491, Austin, TX. 78765)
Fountains Of Wayne
I am willing to give Adam Schlesinger acres and acres of slack for providing the exceptional title song to the wonderful Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do! As soon as was reasonable, I ran out and purchased Apartment Life by Ivy, the pleasantly French-tinted lounge pop band for which he drums and writes, and the self-titled CD by Fountains of Wayne, his wildly uneven rock and roll combo. Both records show that he's no one-hit wonder and that he desperately needs a good editor. Utopia Parkway, FoW's second full-length album (and the first as full-fledged band rather than an overachieving twosome), makes a strong case that Chris Collingwood is not the man for the job. It doesn't matter if the self-consciously clever lyrics and unfocused power pop are Collingwood's fault or just the result of him not being a better filter than Ivy's Andy Chase; in either case, being around this guy's not doing Schlesinger any good.
FoW's last album had the infuriating tendency to veer from an absolutely spectacular song to an innocuously inoffensive three-minute timeholder; stabilizing their efforts here, they opt for the latter. Too many of the songs are totally aimless; the dirge of "Go, Hippie" drags and "Troubled Times" is a bland uptempo pop tune that only needs a slightly altered arrangement to be given to Mariah Carey as a followup to her "inspirational" dreck like "Hero" or "Butterfly." Frustrating matters even more are songs like "Denise" and "Amity Gardens," which possess sublime choruses set amid disposable verses. Too few of the tracks are winners, several of which, oddly, have a distinct Cars feel ("Utopia Parkway" and "Red Dragon Tattoo" especially), but that may just be the synthesizers talking to me. Still, even the best songs on Parkway don't do anything with their sound and style, from the loud guitars to the sarcastic tone and musical in-jokes, that Weezer doesn't do better.
It's the lyrics that are the album's real failing, though. They uniformly suffer from a case of the too-cutes; lines are self-congratulatorily clever without possessing the wit necessary to withstand repeated listening. The album is littered with references and allusions, and even the few that work (among them "Will you stop pretending I've never been born/Now I look a little more like that guy from KorN" (from "Red Dragon Tattoo") and my favorite, from the Redd Kross-y "Laser Show," "We're gonna sit back, relax, watch the stars/James and Jason, Kirk and Lars") will evaporate in a puff of obsolescence in a matter of months. Elsewhere, it sounds like they want us to pat them on the back for rhyming "Lexus" with "Texas" (and "travel" with "gravel," for that matter), which probably wouldn't work even if they propelled the song, rather than being rhymed for rhyme's sake. The only time the lyrics really and truly gel is in "Prom Theme," which is beautiful and phenomenally self-aware, showing the truth behind the "magical night" bullshit. The fact that the music's as pathetic as the Bay City Rollers only makes it all the better.
Music too weak to stand on its own can get by if the lyrics are good enough to carry them (see just-post-electric Dylan, and really think about this one before laying in to me), and vice versa (that would be the Ramones). When both are waiting for the other to pick up the slack, the whole thing collapses. I don't hate this album, I really don't, I'm just...disappointed, is all. I've read that Utopia Parkway is supposed to be a concept album about growing up in New Jersey. There's another, better album about the same thing, called Born To Run. At least Springsteen's characters manage to get the hell out, even if it's not in one piece. Fountains of Wayne stay intact, but their road ultimately leads nowhere. (MH/Fall 1999)