All right, kids. It's Heavy Metal SAT time:
Poison was to Vixen as Alice in Chains is to ______.
If you answered Drain STH, pat yourself on the back. You know your contemporary Metal pretty damn well. Drain is an all-woman quartet that formed in Stockholm, Sweden, six years ago and has since become a popular opening band stateside on numerous tours, notably on Ozzy Osbourne's Ozzfest and his current run with Black Sabbath.
Drain manages to get pretty heavy on its most recent effort, Freaks of Nature (Mercury), and the forcefulness never seems forced. The near monotone, nasally choruses and the selection of notes used to harmonize are straight Alice in Chains, and that's the good news. When singer Maria Sjöholm breaks from her sexually ambiguous low tone, her voice sounds wispy and ultra-lightweight, like when Courtney Love attempts to be sensitive in her songs. "I Wish ..." is the biggest offender in this department, a poppy, yearning ballad that sounds like an outtake from Heart's mid-'80s super-fluff period. The group gets points for trying to make their sound more dynamic in a genre dedicated to albums of full-on rage, but that diversification is ultimately Freaks' downfall.
At Riverbend with Black Sabbath and Godsmack.
Canada's Blinker the Star is the brainchild of songwriter Jordon Zadorozny, who formed the group at the same time he was in a band with Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur called Tinker. Blinker the Star's basement-recorded debut caught the attention of A&M Records, which released the self-titled D.I.Y. project on its offshoot label Treat and Release. A&M proper was the home to A Bourgeois Kitten, an accomplished Pop album that impressed critics and fans, including a new one, Courtney Love, who was turned on to the group by Auf Der Maur. Love began writing songs with Zadorozny, and one of those collaborations, "Reasons to Be Beautiful," ended up on Hole's incredibly overrated Celebrity Skin, supplying Zadorozny with his biggest audience yet.
That should all change with the Sept. 7 release of August Everywhere on Dreamworks Records. August is loaded with potential hit songs that rely on song craftiness over cheap button-pushing tactics. Besides being a fantastic Pop album that is instantly catchy, the record's many nuances (thanks, in part, to ace production work by Failure's Ken Andrews and string arrangements by David Campbell) command repeat listenings to catch all of the subtleties.
With Beach Boys-like melodic gymnastics coupled with sublime harmonies (fans of Failure will find Andrews' production work instantly recognizable) and a soundtrack that goes from heart-caressing lushness to more-direct Pop Rock sophistication, August Everywhere is a sprawling album loaded with mood and atmospherics that never cloud the directness of the melodies. Zadorozny says the album is meant to express the emotions around his favorite time of year, late summer/early fall, which he captures with all the majesty of an expressive painter or poet. Look for this one on numerous Top 10 lists at the end of the year.
At Top Cat's with Vertical Horizon.
As a critic, when you call an album silly and juvenile, you usually risk breaking the heart of some sincere, devoted musician who's spent at least two weeks working on his latest "masterpiece," which he believes to be a cross between OK Computer, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Grease soundtrack, but really it sounds like Men at Work meets the Starland Vocal Band.
"Weird Al" Yankovic, on the other hand, wears the description like a badge of honor. Actually, juvenile is (a very slight) overstatement. Though the idea of song parodies is fairly adolescent, Yankovic's wit makes his easier to swallow. It's the parodies that make his latest, Running with Scissors (Volcano), a good one-or-two time listen. The first single, "The Saga Begins," is a clever send-up of Don McLean's "American Pie," with new lyrics revolving around the new Star Wars flick, while elsewhere Yankovic takes on Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" (redubbed "Jerry Springer," and injected with tales of trailer park madness) and "Grapefruit Diet," a takeoff of Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot."
Of course, this is a comedy album, and its shelf life is far from everlasting. Five years from now, "Pretty Fly For a Rabbi" (a parody of a parody song?) will seem as dated as the Offspring's original, and it's doubtful anyone will even remember the song that "It's All About the Pentiums" is based on (that's "It's All About the Benjamins" for you non-Puff Daddy fans out there). Yankovic, as usual, loads the album with original songs that are about as funny as the parodies but lack that instant-recognition quality.
The funniest bits on Scissors come during "Polka Power!," another Weird Al album trademark. A medley of contemporary hits, Yankovic bites The Spice Girls, Matchbox 20, The Beastie Boys, Semisonic, Hanson, Third Eye Blind, Marilyn Manson and The Backstreet Boys, and recycles them stylistically with his accomplished Polka styling. Funny stuff that will someday serve as a reminder of late '90s radio Pop, which is often more ridiculous than Yankovic.
At Music Hall.