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Stone Temple Pilots, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Luna

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Stone Temple Pilots
No. 4
(Atlantic)

Like their last three albums, No. 4, the unimaginatively titled fourth album from Stone Temple Pilots, kicks around the post-grunge landscape forged, and since abandoned, by their contemporaries. The muddy guitars, the murky melodies, the slinking rhythms -- they're all here, chugging along at the end of the millennium like it's still 1994. And the four members of STP really don't seem to care. Could it be that they're oblivious to Creed, Days of the New, and all those other Alice-in-Nirvana bands that have rendered them relics? Could it be that, like the Rolling Stones, they're so dedicated to their music that they're going to continue churning out the same power riffs year after year, until they have to be wheeled onstage? Or could it be that they just really need the cash, and after a three-year hiatus (spurred by singer Scott Weiland's in-and-out-of-jail time -- he's currently in), a reunion seems fit?

Whatever the case, No. 4 adds a splash of Weiland-induced pretension to the mostly well-chiseled and familiar rock that his bandmates lay down. But even that is nothing new. He's toyed with Beatlesque (and I use the term very loosely) structures and harmonic discord on recent STP albums. His solo outing from last year, as miserable as it was, at least had scope and vision beyond his band's usual three-chord glory. So don't be fooled by the hard-rock rush of the disc's first few songs; they're there to suck you into the gooey center.

Once No. 4 settles, however, the skimpy songs lock into STP formula. Chunky guitars, sledgehammer drums, and Weiland's whisper-to-a-scream theatrics surge through the most rounded songs here (like "Drown" and "No Way Out"). At least his droning insincerity suits the band's clumsy '70s/'80s power chords better than that singer they hired for Talk Show, the group the other Pilots briefly formed while Weiland was doing one of his rehab stints/running from the law. Still, the sense that STP's hearts aren't quite in this is apparent. Instead of using the downtime and life lessons they learned since the split to explore the two increasingly conflicting sides of the band (and maybe reach something other than a half-assed compromise), STP relies on old habits. And it's a lazy fix: one that may temporarily seem like an answer, but will eventually reveal itself as the sluggish dud it is. -- Michael Gallucci

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Looking Forward
(Reprise)

So it's come to this.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, "rock and roll's greatest supergroup," according to an exaggerated press release, have been reduced to delivering what wouldn't even pass for good elevator music.

Were it not for Neil Young, Looking Forward would be nearly unlistenable. And this assessment is coming from someone who worshiped these guys back when they were spokespersons for a generation.

It hurts to say it, but this album is filled with downright yucky lyrics, cloyingly overdone harmonies, generally anemic production, and just about no relevance -- despite the fact they tried so hard, with "timely" lyrics like "So concerned with matters of the heart/And knowing the millennium was just about to start" ("Stand and Be Counted").

It gets worse -- Nash's "Heartland," with the chorus, "In the heartland people everywhere/Try to share their hopes and dreams/In the heartland on any given day/You can find your way back home" sounds like it was written by someone who spends more time off the coast of Hawaii than in "the heartland."

By the time Stills goes reelin' through the years on "Seen Enough," one wonders why someone didn't stop the guys from foisting this embarrassment upon unsuspecting listeners. Were it not for Young's "Slowpoke," the disc would be almost completely without salvation. Despite copping from his own "Heart of Gold," it's the only highlight in an otherwise sad state of affairs -- Young's vocals sans accompaniment are more enjoyable than all the tired harmonies, and his plaintive harp just intensifies the desire for his long-delayed boxed set to materialize.

In the few cases where the instrumentation or melodies aren't bad -- Young and Stills do draw forth some redeeming guitar, and drummer Joe Vitale is as solid as ever -- the songs are either too slow or shlocked up with too much group singing. Hate to say it, but maybe it's time these guys retire -- or at least, rethink the idea of recording together in the future. -- Lynne Margolis

Luna
The Days of Our Nights
(Jericho)

If organized religion ever completely fails as an opiate for the masses, the new Luna disc will provide an ample substitute. Seven years and four albums have earned this quartet a stellar following among lovesick college students and resentful music critics, and The Days of Our Nights will elate and stupefy 'em all over again.

With jangly guitars, sharp lyrics, and shuffling rhythms, Luna invites R.E.M. comparisons. Nights admittedly conjures up a vibe similar to R.E.M.'s Up: ethereal, otherworldly, semi-somnolent, maddeningly introspective. Fortunately, singer-songwriter Dean Wareham proves to be a more accessible host than Michael Stipe, sounding a lot more honest and less self-conscious.

The melancholy, however, easily reaches Stipe-like proportions.

"Some love is short/Some love is long/Sing to the ghosts of a dream gone wrong," Wareham croons on "The Old Fashioned Way," as a somber studio-produced choir moans behind him. That choir returns to hum eerily in the background of "Seven Steps to Satan," while Wareham throws "seven vodkas to the wind." This is drinking music for the disaffected, make-out music for the terminally depressed.

Depression can be beautiful, however; songs like "Math Wiz" anchor Wareham's nascent observations with disarmingly pretty guitars. "U.S. Out of My Pants!" scores song-title-of-the-year honors, featuring one-liners ("I feel so sexy with your boot in my crotch") and hokey basslines with equal aplomb.

But the overmedicated sadness wins out. The whole album oozes a rainy Sunday morning vibe -- it's the sort of thing Morrissey listens to while shaving. To further confound matters, the album closes with a straight cover of "Sweet Child O' Mine" -- where the Guns n' Roses original celebrated excess, bombast, and bad hair, Luna turns it into the slow song the bar band pounds out at closing time, the regulars crying into their beers, a disco ball slowly twirling. The Days of Our Nights plays out as a long, beautiful, mournful, perpetual yawn, proving every bit as necessary and every bit as infectious. -- Rob Harvilla

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