Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Disc 005 - Superchunk - Superchunk

The Disc: Superchunk were indie darlings for the better part of a decade. Their brand of bouncy, hard-hitting power pop features some of the catchiest hooks, most memorable lead guitar riffs, and cleverest lyrical compositions that you'll never hear on the radio. Apart from the band's notoriety as an action-packed live act and their regular schedule of releasing quality records, lead singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance have made considerably larger waves by founding the ubiquitous Merge Records.

If you haven't heard of Merge records, please do the following: finish this sentence, get up from the computer, go to a local record shop (if you can still find one) and pick up a copy of Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.

Back? Good. Once you've listened to that, provided you don't want to listen to it again immediately, you can finish reading this review and Jeff Mangum can buy himself lunch.

But before all of that, Superchunk was just a little group from North Carolina whose moniker derived from a misspelling of their drummer's name in the Chapel Hill phone book. And thank goodness, because who would ever buy an album by a band called "Super Chuck"?

This is their eponymous debut album.

My Copy's Origins: This is one of the times Matt Pinfield did not steer me wrong. I saw Superchunk's "Hyper Enough" video on 120 Minutes the first time I taped it off of Mtv. I bought Here's Where the Strings Come In within a few weeks and sought out to begin a collection of all the band's releases. Superchunk was purchased sometime during the subsequent year along with its follow-up No Pocky for Kitty.

To Toss: Superchunk is a band that has accomplished much, established its name, and given hours of musical enjoyment to their fans around the world.

This is not that band.

This is that band in its infancy. No, this is half that band in its infancy. No, this is half that band in its infancy on a strict budget.

The budget constraints are mostly evident in the production quality of the recording. But, no matter; Superchunk would spend the better half of their career releasing lo-fi albums and still surviving, nay, thriving based on the distinctive sound they produced. Powerful woofers and tweeters are largely irrelevant to enjoying a Superchunk disc.

The fact that half of the band's recognizable lineup is absent from these tracks is most notable in the drumming. While Chuck Garrison shows himself capable and solid, he lacks the character of Jon Wurster, who would join the band two albums later. This is plainly evident when comparing Chuck's drum introduction for Superchunk's "Slack Motherf***er" to Jon Wurster's intro on Here's Where the Strings Come In's "Animated Airplanes over Germany."

"Slack Motherf***er"

"Animated Airplanes Over Germany"

Clearly the first is immediate and would be hard-hitting with the proper recording quality, but it lacks the originality and flavor of Wurster's signature bounce in the latter example.

As far as the band floundering in the throes of its infancy, this mostly falls on lead singer and guitarist Mac McCaughan. Vocally, there are a few missteps. His harmonies, for example, on the chorus of the album-opener "Sick to Move" feel improvised, as if he is finding them in the course of recording them. Mac's guitar-playing, while showing the hallmarks of the playfulness and exuberance he would later develop, is here just a notch above adequate.

But, most of all, the songwriting never quite reaches the heights and vivacity of subsequent releases. Mostly, it seems that Mac hasn't found his niche stylistically. His lyrics are much more angst-ridden than usual (as is evinced by the title of the aforementioned "Slack Motherf***er"). It's not that future-Chunk would never sound angry, but here the music matches the message to a fault. While On the Mouth's "Precision Auto" is angry, it counteracts its shouts of "Do not pass me just to slow down!" with a simple lead, chord progression and overall feel that makes you think the band is actually having fun.

That's never wholly apparent on Superchunk. Tracks like "Let It Go" and "Down the Hall" convey more attack than spectacle. What would one day be merely fireworks here is aimed straight at the listener as if its a SCUD missile. Where other, edgier bands could bolster that attack and knock their fans out with sheer power, Superchunk's onslaught just irritates, like getting a cinder from one of those firecrackers on your skin, negating the enjoyment of the colorful explosions.

Not to Toss: Despite some of the more lackluster efforts put forth on this disc, there are definite highlights. In fact, the band itself seems to have recognized which tracks on this album are of higher caliber by tending only to perform those songs in their few live performances these days. Among them is the lead track, "Sick to Move."

Here, Chuck manages to drive the intro with a solid roll on the floor tom as the rest of the band builds to the first verse. From there, the whole track steamrolls naturally through to its repeated coda. Mac's lyrics stay clever, and the first line is a great opening for the whole disc:
"Finger on my pulse,
I've got my finger in the socket.
Why build the cradle
If you don't plan to rock it?"
-"Sick to Move"
Despite being the most vitriolic in title and lyrical content, "Slack Motherf***er" is also the most focused song on the album, and the track where it most sounds like the band is having a good time. This was the band's first hit, and became an anthem for the disgruntled blue collar worker of the early 90s, with its refrain of "I'm working, but I'm not working for you!" It's eventual anti-employer status is ironic, as Mac originally wrote it as vilification for a fellow employee at Kinko's who would just sit around smoking instead of doing his job.

Though it's not as focused as "Slack Mofo," the album closer, "Not Tomorrow" features the best lead guitar work on the whole disc, and actually builds to a strong finale.

"Not Tomorrow"

On top of all of this, the lower quality recording seems to have favored the low end, which makes Laura's bass sound like a monster throughout, especially on its first entrance in "Let It Go." Who can complain about that?

The Verdict: Looking back on this review, there is a lot more text in the "To Toss" section than "Not To Toss." Most of those complaints, though, come from the fact that this is not my Superchunk. They're not yet the band I want them to be.

In preparing to write about this album, I actually listened to several of the discs that followed, and found a very distinct, very natural progression of style, quality, and musicianship to be apparent. With most bands, this is not the case. Many groups today never get the chance to develop the way Superchunk did, and if they are given the chance, they often peak too early, only to linger on pumping out tired retreads of their earlier glory.

To throw away such a promising debut as Superchunk, especially when many of those promises have since been fulfilled, would be akin to cutting baby pictures out of the family photo album because your kid wasn't "ready yet."

Superchunk stays.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Disc 004 - Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel 3 (Melt)

The Disc: Peter Gabriel has left his fingerprints on enough forms of media to convince me he's got extra hands. Fans of late 80s films can't listen to "In Your Eyes" without picturing John Cusack holding aloft a boombox. If you watched Mtv in the mid-80s, "Sledgehammer" comes with associations of stop-motion animation, clay models, and awkward closeups. His time in Genesis was marked by wild theatricality, including multiple elaborate costumes and strange stage performances.

Then there are the songs themselves. The two aforementioned hits as well as, "Solsbury Hill," his classic (though now overused) farewell to Genesis are just some of the more well-known tracks and only scratch the surface of the breadth of style and songwriting prowess Gabriel has displayed during his long career. From faux mo-town to acoustic ballads to world music, he was successful in multiple genres. Though his releases have been sporadic and varying in both quality and relevance since 1986's So, Gabriel definitely cultivated an expansive landscape of work early enough to allow him to be as indulgent and apathetic to public opinion as he has become.

Starting in 1977, Gabriel released a series of four eponymous albums emblazoned with stylized images of his own face on each cover. To distinguish between them, fans have since taken to either referring to them by number (similar to Led Zeppelin's approach) or by nicknames derived from the cover's image. The third of these, "Melt," is his most critically acclaimed, but not as commercially successful as its predecessors. In fact, some of the early mixes prompted an Atlantic A&R exec to recommend Gabriel be dropped from the label entirely. Apparently, it was not everyone's cup of tea...

My Copy's Origins: Those of us who had a particularly happy and illusioned childhood spend much of our adult life trying to lasso a certain feeling we once had in our youth in order to reel it in, climb on top, and ride it as long as we can keep from getting bucked back to the dirt. That feeling may come from an entire mental summation of young life, a brief span in our early years, or from one fleeting moment that we never forget.

For me, it was standing in a neighbor's backyard at sunset holding a plastic lightsaber.

In 2005, I rented In Good Company to watch one late night in my new 4th floor apartment. I don't remember too much about the film itself, but it's use of "Solsbury Hill" triggered something in my psyche. During my muddled and distracted experiences throughout the 1980s, I don't recall ever hearing this song, but somehow it felt like that day. It conjured up an emotion that I didn't understand when I was 5 years old, but enjoyed, and it managed to stick with me. As I stepped out into the late night air on the fire escape that was my back porch, I felt invigorated by the emotions of that song. I ordered Gabriel's first album, "Car," the next day, and I enjoyed it so much, I bought the next two albums a week later.

To Toss: The obvious question would be, "Why is Gabriel's (melted) head on the (proverbial) chopping block, then?" Well, the primary reason this disc might be tossable is that I've never listened to it. I chalk this up to a few factors:

As I said, I purchased "Car," "Scratch" and "Melt" in rapid succession over the course of two weeks. This is a former habit of mine that I have purposely tried to abandon in recent years, as it tends to overload me with more music than I can absorb. It's just not possible to give the appropriate amount of attention to three new CD's at once. Typically, a move like this results in one disc becoming a mainstay in my listening rotation, and the other two being dropped back on the shelf like unloved latchkey children. "Car" became my favorite son, and its younger siblings were dismissed.

Secondly, though most critics value "Melt" as a high point in Gabriel's artistic career, few would ever label the record as "accessible," and neither would I. These are complicated songs that don't grab you immediately with a hook or beat. A true listener needs set aside time to delve into these tracks and allow them to really sink in.

Third, (and this is a true defect of the disc) while the music itself may not be, some of the sound and style choices are now dated. While "Car" had its moments of 70's excess, it mostly floated above the standard tropes of the decade with production that eschewed the latest trends in sonic texture. "Melt" sometimes allows the new kids to come and play, and the songs suffer for it. The album's highest charting single (tied with "Sledgehammer" as Gabriel's highest charting UK single) "Games Without Frontiers" is the worst offender, undermining the song's simple yet insightful war critique with cheesy synth leads and bass over an early version of the programmable drumset...

Not To Toss: ...but, I still want to listen to it. In fact, "Frontiers" manages to transcend both its heavy-handed message and production defaults with a playful feel and a highly enjoyable melody line. This is fairly characteristic of the rest of the CD. Even though it has a tendency to carry you back to 1980, you quickly forget where and when you are once you become engrossed in the atmosphere of the song itself.

Gabriel sets the tone quickly with "Intruder." Where "Car" was melancholy (beautifully represented by the cover photo) and "Scratch" an immediate attack (ditto), "Melt" is, for lack of a better word, creepy. The opening chords, coupled with a pounding drumbeat (almost a mimic of a pumping heart) and the slow scratch of a guitar string make the listener uneasy before Gabriel's voice even begins softly singing:
I know something about opening windows and doors.
I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors.
I know where to find precious things in all your cupboards and drawers.
The album is divided into two distinct halves that link thematically. For our purposes here, let's call them...oh, I don't know... side one and side two:

Side one is focused inwardly. It deals with the neuroses and dysfunctions of people who are battling demons inside them. Though "Intruder" revels in its vices, "No Self Control" sounds and feels like an addict having a nervous breakdown. It is also the antithesis of the dated production found in "Games Without Frontiers" and "I Don't Remember." Here, the synthesizers blend seamlessly with the guitar and marimba to create a single sonic entity. By the time Phil Collins executes the drum fill at 2:04, I'm sold.

This paranoid and self-loathing pathway culminates in "Family Snapshot," as Gabriel examines the mindset and methodical plotting of an assassin seeking the limelight for killing a politician. Based on Arthur Bremer's diary, An Assassin's Diary, chronicling his attempted murder of presidential candidate George Wallace, the song connects the would-be assassin's motives with a neglected childhood, flashing back in its coda to his youth:

All turned quiet-I have been here before,
Lonely boy hiding behind the front door.
Friends have all gone home.
There's my toy gun on the floor.
Come back Mum and Dad.
You're growing apart.
You know that I'm growing up sad.
I need some attention.
I shoot into the light.
-"Family Snapshot"

"And Through the Wire" connects this inner turmoil to side two of the album. This half is focused on outward struggles, mostly war and injustice. It concludes with the rousing and inspiring "Biko," which chronicles the abuse and eventual death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. Once again, it is not just the content of this song that makes it so moving, but also the choice of instrumentation. The tribal rhythms and African singing melds with a distant bagpipe buried in the left channel. The feeling recreated is that of a Scottish elegy for the fallen South African martyr.

The Verdict: It should be plain that I only have two misgivings about this CD being in my collection. The first is the interspersing of dated production values throughout that can distract from the quality of the songs. However, the songwriting is strong enough that the scales tend to tip in Gabriel's favor. The second is that it took me so long to listen to it.

"Melt" is a keeper.

Now, if I could just find that plastic lightsaber...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Disc 003 - Metal Molly - Surgery for Zebra

The Disc: Hailing from Belgium, the mythical land that gave us such brilliant artists as Django Reinhardt, K's Choice, and Eric Clapton*, Metal Molly were (or sometimes are according to some sources) a 90's alternative rock trio who eschewed lyrical content for... well, funny-sounding English words that sort of rhymed. Surgery for Zebra, their first album, was released in 1996. They then split up the following year, only to reform in 2000 and deliver a second album, The Golden Country. Surgery, however, seems to be the one that garnered them what little attention they received stateside.

Oh, yeah. It's also got a dude in a gas mask on the cover. So, that's a plus.

My Copy's Origins: I don't know about anyone else, but for me in the mid-90's, the place to be on Sunday nights at midnight was watching MTV's 120 Minutes with Matt Pinfield. Well, actually, the place for me to be on Sunday nights at midnight was in bed, because I had to get up for school in the morning. But the VCR timer was set to record, and then I'd watch it when I got home on Monday afternoon.

I'd listen for hours (two to be exact) while Matt Pinfield made esoteric connections between Stephen Malkmus and former Egyptian UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. I'd watch excitedly to see what 1970's British punk band's cover version of a classic folk tune Tim Armstrong had requested they play. I'd wait anxiously for the second hour when Stabbing Westward was set to perform "What Do I Have to Do?" live in an empty soundstage.

But mostly, I watched for the new videos. Most of these clips would never make it into rotation during daylight hours. Some of them might never even feature again on the show. It was like they'd barely clawed their way out of the pit of obscurity to peek their heads out and be seen for a brief 3 minutes, only to lose their grip and fall back to the bottom of the chasm immediately after. Metal Molly did exactly that with their video for the single, "Orange."

Not bad if you like toy accordions and aren't easily nauseated by slowly spinning cameras. Apparently, I enjoyed it and didn't throw up because soon after I hitched a ride down to the Compact Disc Center in Bethlehem to scour the used CD racks where, luckily enough, I found it.

To Toss: Maybe "luckily enough" wasn't the right phrase. I think I better start with the positives...

Not To Toss: This record was produced marginally well. The guitar sounds pretty thin, even when distorted, and there are no "wow-that-sounded-cool-let-me-rewind-it" moments, but its sonic quality is average at worst. There are a few decent melodies and an occasional harmony to match. The disc even contains some nice instrumentation choices at times.

For instance, the organ solo that opens the album adds some nice texture to the music. It's unfortunate that that organ is never heard again after "Flipper" kicks in. Another nice touch is the small Salvation Army Band-type ensemble that marches out of earshot at the end of "Poolbell." Sadly, these highlights are simply intros and codas, and can't save the songs they prefix or suffix.

Of course, there's the snazzy bassline to "Orange" that first enticed me to purchase. Plus, the little lead guitar blips in "PVC" are very minor thrills.

Can you tell I'm grasping at straws here? Okay, let's get down to business...

To Toss (Take Two): Remember back in the early days of rock n' roll when bands were forced by their label to re-record track lyrics in foreign languages so they could appeal to a larger international audience? Heck, The Beatles even did it. Twice. I always wondered who did the translations and how good they were. I mean, how often was the lyrical content sacrificed for the sake of fixing the rhyme in another language and vice-versa? Some things must have been lost in translation.

Part of me hopes that happened on a much larger scale to the lyrics of Surgery for Zebra. Now, I'd like to think I'm not all that picky when it comes to lyrical content. After all, I do own several Wings albums, so I can handle style over substance. I'll even let a few cheap rhymes slide enough to pull out my copy of Coldplay's X&Y from time to time. But...

"I've got a bad case of chronic pneumonia.
There is a picture in me as well.
I've lost my first case of chronic amnesia.
What's my surname? I just can't tell..."

Wish well.
As much as I want to believe these lines were more meaningful in the original Dutch, my instincts tell me they were never written in Dutch, and the band's lead singer, Pascal Deweze instead relied heavily on the English rhyming dictionary his grootmoeder bought him for Whit Monday.

As a tribute to that event, he seems to have written this little classic:
"Wish I had a place where I could dweep.
They say that I'm an isolated creep.
Monday is queer.
So sincere.
Wish she was here.
Monday is queer.

Water shakes my knees.
Here's a strange disease.
Won't you help me please?"
-"Monday Is Queer"
I won't go on. Nonsense like this is worth listening to if there's a pretense of lyrical depth around it. Here, it's just random words that share similar final vowel and consonant sounds. Maybe this is that rare occasion in all of human history where putting these songs in the band's native tongue would actually cause something to be gained in translation.

The Verdict: Part of me resists tossing this out of fear that I may one day want to listen to "Superskunk" or the brief sound collage "60,000 Brill Buildings and Rising." Or maybe it's just that I haven't tossed one yet. Well, enough hesitation.

Surgery is getting tossed.

*Some critics still debate whether or not Eric Clapton was actually from Belgium or just liked to vacation there during the rainy season.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Disc 002 - Newsboys - Going Public

The Disc: Since 1985, The Newsboys having been wowing Christian audiences and headlining Creation Festivals with their Aussie accents, catchy keyboard riffs, and a line-up that revolves just about as often as the rotating drum rig for which they're oh-so famous. Though they made their first mark on the CCM scene with Not Ashamed and its single of the same name, their fifth album, Going Public was where things really took off. The lead single, "Shine" is an instantly recognizable hit, and the album is generally considered to be one of the first alternative Christian records that was open and honest about its subjects, yet reverent.

My Copy's Origins: I'm pretty sure the strobe lights made me buy this CD. Our junior high youth group at church was organizing a trip to go see Steven Curtis Chapman on his "Heaven in the Real World Tour" (see what he did there?) and though I'm not sure why, I ended up tagging along. My friend Mark and I sat together in the arena seats, probably making fart jokes and laughing hysterically at nothing, while our youth group leader hyped up SCC's show. I was pretty skeptical. I'd seen Stevie's haircut.


Then the lights went down and the synthesizers started. It was the opening riff from "Shine." When the lights flashed back on there were several odd looking Aussie's on stage wearing grey jumpsuits, banging their bald heads, and letting loose some raucous contemporary Christian pop. At the chorus, a giant LED-style screen behind them flashed "S-H-I-N-E" in quick succession as strobe lights pounded the audience with each new letter. Mark started making ridiculous faces to coincide with each flash of the strobe. Either that, or he was having a seizure.

I don't remember much else from that night, except that I talked my parents into taking me up to Hackman's Bible Bookstore the next weekend and splitting the cost of "Going Public" with me.

To Toss: A few years ago, Blaze magazine praised the Newsboys for showing "music from a Godly perspective could sound extremely catchy, have lyrics that were honest and still glorify God." What Blaze neglected to mention was that, while those lyrics might be honest, some are also downright silly. Here's a quick sampler:
"Try as you may there is no way to explain that kind of change that would make an Eskimo renounce fur, that'd make a vegetarian barbecue a hamster."

"I wanna preach the word. They want massages. I check chapter and verse. They check their watches."
-"When You Called My Name"

"It's not a family trait, it's nothing that I ate, and it didn't come from skating with holy rollers."
-"Spirit Thing"
Needless to say, this ain't Shakespeare, it ain't T.S. Eliot, it ain't even Dylan. (Of course, Dylan's Christian albums weren't exactly "Dylan," either... but, we'll get to that later.) These lyrics might have earned them some respect in the CCM community, but outside of that, they don't hold up so well.

Furthermore, those same synth sounds that thrilled my adolescent ears in that big arena can also be used for evil. When it comes to laying on the schmaltz, the Newsboys know where all the necessary buttons are on their KORG keyboards. The two major offenders here are "Let It Rain" and "Be Still."

The former track, written from the perspective of the apostle Peter during his "final hour" remembering all of the water-related elements that remind him of Christ, is quite poignant and poetic. It could probably have been salvaged as a decent ballad were it not drenched in multiple layers of synth strings and pad swells.

The latter, however, is so cheesy that its melted corners practically drape over the edge of the disc itself. I'm pretty sure I can even hear a few whispered lyrics in the background. What is this, Newsboyz II Men?

With a few other notable examples, this type of production comes off as considerably dated, keeping the listener constantly aware that this is an early-90's Christian pop album.

Not to Toss: Of course, those three adjectives are a triple-whammy to any record, especially in the area of production. We're talking about an era, a religion, AND a genre that tend to favor flowery, over-produced music. This may not excuse the Newsies for their crimes, but it certainly puts things into perspective as to what kinds of obstacles they needed to overcome to make a good record.

So, did they?

To be honest, some of these tracks hold up surprising well today. Yes, there are the aforementioned lyrical and synth-based atrocities to consider, but if you can take yourself a little less seriously (and I'd like to think I can) there actually is some brave honesty here. While the word choice may not always be impeccable, the themes and truths that they're examining still come through, and they say a lot.

The title track, for example, deals with the tendency of believers to stay closeted about their faith for fear of the persecution or stigma they'd face from others. In less capable hands, a song like this could come across as accusatory or preachy, but Davis and Furler manage to make it more of a rallying cry than a sermon: "Sign on, the time is drawing near, this surely a banner year to be a public witness."

"Truth and Consequences," while still fraught with some laughable lines and a slightly confusing spoken-word bridge, (are we meant to imply a Cyrano de Bergerac-style dialogue from the dual panned voices repeating each other?) still addresses the fact that many Christian relationships are just as vapid, self-serving, and tactical as those outside the church.

The real stand-out song is the concluding track, "Elle G.," whose title is a thinly veiled reference to the word "elegy." The song revolves around a man coping with the shocking suicide of a young girl who was obviously a close friend. Rather than sentimentalizing the subject, the lyrics explore some of the serious questions anyone in this situation would ask. Lines like, "Silence, nobody breathe. How in the world could you just leave? You swore that you would silence that evil with good," are left unanswered, adding a notable depth to the subject matter. However, the final "overcome evil" that appears to signal the denouement of the whole record takes a surprise turn by swelling back with a confident cry of "for good" and a climactic guitar solo.

The Verdict: Overall, the tracks where the production is less than intrusive are fun and somewhat thoughtful. This is by no means high art, but certainly good listening. And I don't know about anyone else, but I still smile when "Shine" starts and I hear that opening synth riff. I smile without irony.

Going Public stays.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Disc 001: 2 Minutes Hate - Let it Eat

The Disc: 2 Minutes Hate is a band you've never heard of, and after this blog review, you never will again. Named after a concept from George Orwell's 1984, this band's moment of fame lasted about 119 seconds shorter than their name. Let it Eat was the first of only two albums released by the group in 1995 before they promptly dropped off the radar. The group was replaced by several incompetent hardcore and rap-rock namesakes who have never read 1984 but figure that any band name with the word "Hate" in it qualifies as bad-ass.

My Copy's Origins: Around the time of this album's release, I had newly discovered CMJ Magazine and its lovely monthly sampler CD's. I never became a full-blown subscriber, but I would regularly scour the magazine racks at my local Borders to find a new copy I could purchase and take home for perusal. Being still a devout follower of the gods of grunge and all things distorted, I often skipped over or scoffed at tracks such as "Underground" by Ben Folds Five, or Mercury Rev's cover of some song called "Don't Let Me Down."

But, of course, the loud stuff would catch my attention. 2 Minutes Hate's "California" qualified and I placed it on a birthday wish list. Somehow... don't ask me how, because I don't know, my parents found and bought me a copy, thus making me one of six people on the planet Earth who own this record. And the ONLY one that isn't currently flogging it on eBay.

To Toss: To be completely candid, I had never listened closely to half the songs on this record. However, as per my youthful "new-CD-listening-regimen," I have sampled the first ten or twenty seconds of each track looking for "something cool." Therefore, my former knowledge of this disc is made up of about four full songs and seven recognizable intros.

Upon listening to the album from start to finish I now realize that many of these songs never get more interesting than their intros, so I hadn't been missing much. The lead singer's voice resembles an awkward cross between a mildly sedated Billy Corgan and a smirking Jack Nicholson circa 1975. When the music supporting him is memorable and the lyrics less than cringe-worthy, his timbre can be generally ignored. However, these moments are sparse throughout.

As far as the instrumentation, the bass is indistinguishable, the drums generally inconsequential, and the guitars... well, they're playing as many riffs as they can cram into the mere 43 minutes of the disc. Actually, I'm pretty sure that the solo on "Alligator" is actually an outtake from one of Pearl Jam's sessions for Ten.

The lyrics aren't much better, with choruses like "My alli! My gator! You want it! You'd never!" or "I'm not your cauliflower. It's not my darkest hour." Somehow, cliches about despair and suffering just don't mix well with vegetable metaphors.

Not to Toss: This is one of those anomalies of the pre-digital age where, despite the generally forgettable and bland music throughout, two or three stand-out moments make me hesitant to chuck this in the bin. While most of the songs start in one mode and end still flailing about in that same vein, accomplishing very little other than draining the 9-volt in a distortion pedal, three tracks stand out as not only listenable but enjoyable.

"Killing Time," while not exactly a work of lyrical genius, is textured, layered, and contains enough nice little guitar riffs and catchy melody lines to give it status as a viable single. The use of ominous guitar feedback and faded lead lines pushes it well above the quality of the rest of the record. In fact, if it ended at 2:43 rather than jumping back into an unnecessary rehash of the main riff (now with overdrive!) I might call it a great song.
<a href="">Killing Time by 2 Minutes Hate</a>

"Shock" is not as subtle as "Killing Time," but it does feature some clever studio tricks, tempo changes, and quality performances that set it apart from other tracks on the disc. The guitar sound on the intro is unique enough to alert any listener (even myself at 15) that this track is worth further inspection. Featuring a very distant, muted distortion and what appears to be miked electric guitar strums in one ear and a booming low note bent and drooped over and over in the other, the song barrels into the album's best rocker, and never really lets up.

With just that in its favor, the song wouldn't be all that spectacular, but about half-way through, the beat relents and allows the guitar and driving bass to pull the song in a whole new direction. For the only time on the whole album, the band sounds glorious, resplendent, even joyful singing "Well my heart is pounding like a big bass drum. Hallelujah!" (Is that how they convinced Ardent records to sign them?)
<a href="">Shock by 2 Minutes Hate</a>

Lastly, "Understand" is a rare ballad that is so uncharacteristic of the band, you almost feel like you're listening to a better record for most of its four minutes. Predominantly calm and quiet, the song features some lovely melodic variations on two very simple chord structures, played mostly on the higher frets while letting the open low notes ring out below. The marked tenderness of the first two minutes and the song's vaguely passable lyrics even earn the band enough credit to justify the inevitable swell into distortion that finally bursts forth. The main riff is good enough that it actually sounds just as beautiful when played in overdrive. Though, no one would ever call "Understand" a 'classic' it shows enough promise to let the listener imagine how great it might have been with the proper production and performance.
<a href="">Understand by 2 Minutes Hate</a>

The Verdict: This is a tough one. Would you hang on to a decent book just because it had one excellent chapter? Is a movie worth keeping on your shelf because of a single classic scene? Or is it no longer necessary to stock up on relatively vapid CD's with only a few impressive tracks now that we can just download the good ones and forgo the rest?

Considering my fondness for these three tracks, and passing interest in the lower caliber songs, I also need to take into account the rarity of the disc itself. Obviously, no collector will ever pay a mint for it, and it's not going to appreciate in value, but if I toss it now, I may never find another copy if I ever wanted one. And the fact that I think I might ever want one, tells me not to toss.

Let it Eat stays.