To sum up the appeal of Collective Soul in thirteen words: DAA na na NAA na na NAA na na NAA na NAAAH (yeah).
There you have it: the amazingly catchy, omnipresent guitar riff in "Shine," Collective Soul's one-way ticket to butt-whippin' rock stardom. Those thirteen syllables moved several million copies of their debut album, Hints, Allegations, and Things Left Unsaid, paving the way for an impressive entourage of platinum-selling albums and stoopid-huge hit singles: "Gel," "Listen," "The World I Know"--you get the picture.
And now, despite the impending death of long-haired guitar rock, Collective Soul forges bravely onward with Dosage, its fourth album--or, more accurately, its fourth attempt at its first album. Here's the problem: These boys still sound exactly the same.
Did I say forging? Perhaps foraging is a better term. This band might have made a living peddling radio-ready guitar nuggets that won't offend anybody, but being doggedly nonoffensive gets really irritating, really fast. Take "Heavy," for example, a fist-pumpin', hard-riffin' hit single that would pack a lot more punch if it didn't sound exactly like the last fist-pumpin', hard-riffin' hit single, "Precious Declaration." Other tracks follow this been-there-done-that mentality: "Generate" doesn't really generate anything; "Dandy Life" isn't all that dandy; and "Not the One," in fact, is not.
Still, this band deserves some credit for solid songwriting and impressive atmo-sphere. "I'm dying here/For a compliment," guitarist/songwriter Ed Roland proclaims on "Compliment." Here's one, Ed: You write really good Top 40 songs. A touch of falsetto flourish invests a subtle grace in "Needs," while "Run" slips by with a sleepy, Sunday morning lilt similar to "December," from the band's second record.
"Compliment" is actually the best track on the disc--a few well-placed words on innocence and some nifty guitar lines (with three guitarists in the band, it was bound to happen sometime) wrap up a perfect three-minute package.
Roland's songwriting still needs work. "Tremble for My Beloved" finds him trying to rhyme "begun" and "opened,"--no go, my man. Overall, Dosage is capably conceived and executed by a solid, dependable band. But it leaves you wondering if Collective Soul ever wants anything more. Will the band ever break new ground or experiment with its sound? Or will it merely rewrite "The World I Know" every few years? Collective Soul will move records and woo fans with a decent songwriting formula, but it still amounts to a band easily described in thirteen words. Or less.
Way back before Nirvana started an alternative revolution--about ten years prior, in fact--there was another, less-hyped alternative music insurrection happening on the airwaves. This was before modern rock got its own Billboard chart, major label record deals, and television commercials. It was happening left of the dial, on college radio stations across America, where bands like the dB's, Mission of Burma, the Lyres, Flipper, Gang of Four, Rank and File, the Fleshtones, the Dream Syndicate, and Meat Puppets were in heavy rotation.
It was primarily an "Amerindie" revolution, little local bands from across the country pressing their own seven-inches and touring relentlessly. Occasionally, a song or two might have found its way on then-floundering MTV or at the bottom half of the charts (thanks in part to the American press's fervent support of these records). But more likely than not, these bands and their records were heard by only a handful of people, mostly music geeks rummaging indie record stores for the latest vinyl 45s and overpriced imports.
This was all before dollars were dangled in front of prospective music saviors (the cover of Nevermind couldn't have been more prescient); most of these bands were lucky to break even after months on the road. They were too young for punk, too hip for new wave.
The 48 songs on the three volumes of Postpunk Chronicles documents this period with a fan's ear and heart. Spanning both the American and European scenes (many of the Amerindie bands were influenced as much by the bands that rose from Britpunk's ashes as they were Nuggets-style Stateside garage bands from the '60s), the discs Scared to Dance, Left of the Dial, and Going Underground give a copious, if incomplete, portrait of the other side of the radio dial, circa early '80s.
Powered by songs from R.E.M. (the original single version of "Radio Free Europe"), New Order, the Raincoats, the Dream Syndicate, the Jam, the Smiths, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Gang of Four, and Sonic Youth with Lydia Lunch, Postpunk Chronicles advances from synth-heavy Europunk leftovers (the bulk of Scared to Dance) to the glorious Amerindie movement (most of Left of the Dial). Future moneymakers like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and the Cult are also here, in primitive form, but it's the names that never really broke the college-radio barrier that give these volumes their force.
The best singles here (and most of these tracks were issued as singles by small labels that usually folded within a couple years of start-up) still pound from the speakers like vital booms of thunder: New Order's "Ceremony," recorded in the wake of the suicide of former singer Ian Curtis (when the band was still Joy Division, which is represented by the gloomy "Transmission"), sounds like the dirge that it actually is (none of that flighty dance stuff they would make later in their career), and Gang of Four's "To Hell With Poverty" (from Going Underground) is a sociopolitical/prophetic musing on everything '80s (pre-Reagan, it nailed both America's and England's shifting moods).
While some of the stuff is best left in the '80s (Scared to Dance's only real solid contribution to the series is Iggy Pop's "New Values"), Postpunk Chronicles' greatest moments (from Mission of Burma, the Dream Syndicate, the Smiths, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Lyres, Pere Ubu, and the Jam) offer a radiant and diverse take on an era that's closely guarded and cherished by those who were there--and who can't help but shake their heads at what became of it all.
Chuck E. Weiss
There was a time when rock critics and rock fans generally agreed. Critics liked the Beatles, Stones, Doors, Who, Dead, etc. Fans liked them, too. Good notices from reviewers were considered essential for commercial success.
Then, about 1970, something happened. Fans started turning albums by Grand Funk Railroad and Black Sabbath into platinum despite the best efforts of critics to convince them these bands had nothing to offer other than testosterone. The attitude of the music journalist suddenly shifted from "This is a band you ought to like and probably will," to "If you don't like it, you're just not cool enough." This, sad to say, spawned a cadre of pretentious twits who claimed to dig the off-the-wall crap the critics raved about, just so they would appear "cool." Well, cool is in the eye of the beholder, and it's no sin not to be cool. Being true to yourself is the coolest thing you can do.
Chuck E. Weiss is cool. The title of his new album says it all. Critics will love him. The public will ignore him. Extremely Cool is the long-awaited follow-up to Weiss's debut, released in 1981 (yes, he went eighteen years between records). That itself is risky enough, but Weiss takes a few musical risks, too. Playing it safe is obviously not one of his hobbies.
Extremely Cool is no off-the-wall jive, really. Yes, the lyrics border on gibberish, but there's a hook in just about every song here. Maybe you won't hear them right away, but this disc stands up to repeated spins quite well. It doesn't rock. There are no love songs. The whole thing has the feel of open-microphone night at the local beatnik hangout, but what do you expect from a guy whose best friend is Tom Waits? Weiss is what Waits would be if he didn't write the occasional hit for someone else.
Though beatnik-style cool hangs heavy over the album, Weiss's music is a grab-bag of styles: African rhythms, raw blues, Lord Buckley-style jazz/rap, Chuck Berry rock and roll, even zydeco. Weiss and Waits co-wrote "It Rains on Me," which sounds like Jerry Jeff Walker meeting Howlin' Wolf, and the nonsensical "Do You Know What I Idi Amin," a riot of non sequiturs that just goes on too damn long. "Deeply Sorry" has an almost Cab Calloway hipness to it, while "Just Don't Care" is Creedence Clearwater Revival with a baritone on vocals.
No review of Chuck E. Weiss is complete without mentioning that he is the subject of Rickie Lee Jones's "Chuck E.'s in Love." If you have known that for the past twenty years, a thousand apologies. But if you've just learned it, amaze your friends with your knowledge of pointless trivia. They might think you're extremely cool.
Bob Khaleel has had quite a career. Not that any of his musical endeavors have blown up and made the Bronx native a superstar or anything like that. He was named Best New Artist of the Year in 1992 by Rolling Stone, when he was a rapper going by the name Bronx Style Bob (anyone remember this?); a few years later he was letting his freak flag fly and hanging with the hippies at H.O.R.D.E. as part of Super 8 (any bells?). His latest project, which uses only his surname, is an alterna-soul venture that mixes a bit of Seal with a little D'Angelo and comes up with something that's completely devoid of identity.
Blessed with a silky smooth voice and a knack for putting together some equally sweet melodies, Khaleel flows through People Watching with a sense of purpose that's part optimistic determination and part weary frustration. He certainly tries here, but the familiarity of it all and its lack of originality (Khaleel's multiple personalities in the past should tell you something about his commitment to his music) ultimately sink it beneath its own conformity.
Khaleel backs himself up with a slew of minor guest artists--members of Fishbone, Jellyfish, and K's Choice, and Poe herself, all make unobtrusive cameos. Produced by sonic crunch master Matt Wallace, Khaleel spins People Watching into a sentimental meditation on his family and home, unfolding one overworked tale at a time. It's a little piece of personal cinema wrapped in a package of acoustic strummings and creamy vocals, but by the end of it all, you're still not certain who the real Khaleel is.
And maybe that's just the way he wants it. Despite the singular tone of the project, this is no more revealing or intimate than his other musical identities. Khaleel merely hides behind more relaxed and detailed grooves this time around--he's a singer-songwriter now. Even People Watching's best songs--"No Mercy," "Love Comes 'Round"--sound like no more than an ambient-free version of Seal. Things are pretty straightforward here, but you'll end up squinting through the haze in search of some form of individuality.