Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Punk Planet Reviewer Spotlights Part 3

from Punk Planet #77
Therapy?, Infernal Love
Ireland’s Therapy? was like a secret handshake in my high school. The few fans that I knew would say their name with a deepening of the voice and a widening of the eyes. This trio had something special going on, but nobody could really explain what exactly it was. Upon hearing Hats Off to the Insane and Troublegum, I think I knew what was up. Up until that point, Therapy? had a string of singles, mini-albums, and records that were very melodic and punky but also sounded like Prong and Helmet records. Yet on ’95’s Infernal Love, the cold industrial sounds were replaced by smoother sounds coupled with a wider scope of songwriting. From barnburners like “Stories” and “Misery” to the Police-like “Bad Mother” to the stellar singles of “Jude the Obscene” and “Loose” to the peaceful “Moment of Clarity,” Infernal Love is probably the band’s finest album start to finish. Also special of note is their strings-and-vocals version of Hüsker Dü’s “Diane.” Reworking the song like Nick Cave fronting the Kronos Quartet, the song goes to a much sinister place than the original ever did. The band released a handful of records after Infernal Love and is still going today. They’ve never reached above a secret handshake for many in the US, but for what they do, that’s quite alright.

from Punk Planet #78
Paul Westerberg, Eventually
I’ve come across way more people that prefer rough-and-tumble Westerberg than polished Westerberg. I’m not going to argue about which is better (“Kids Don’t Follow” is as great as “World Class Fad” in my book), but Eventually is one of Westerberg’s most consistent solo albums. Ten years after its release, it doesn’t sound a day old. The guitars, drums, keyboards and vocals still pack a punch and that’s pretty remarkable. Though the album gets a little dodgy in the middle, tracks like “Love Untold,” “Angels Walk” and the Byrds-like “These Are the Days” are killer. Fellow ’Mat Tommy Stinson makes an appearance on the funky party that is “Trumpet Clip.” “Good Day” is a heartfelt tribute to fellow ’Mat (and Tommy’s brother) Bob Stinson, who had died only a year before. Eventually is not adult contemporary schmaltz, but it’s definitely not drunken anarchy either. Westerberg’s critical hosannas as a solo artist came years later when he started making records in his basement. I can’t say this approach has made for the most qualitative material, but he hasn’t lost his knack for writing a heart-tugging rock song.

from Punk Planet #79
Stereophonics, Word Gets Around
In late ’97, I had enough of bands being praised as the next Oasis, Verve or Blur. So that’s my best excuse for why I rolled my eyes at the Stereophonics when I saw their “Traffic” video on 120 Minutes. I thought, “Here’s yet another band with a singer singing into a microphone positioned at his forehead instead of his mouth. Coupled with an anti-climactic ballad . . . No thanks!” Thankfully, when the band’s second album, Performance and Cocktails, came out stateside, V2 sent out a college radio sampler with tracks from both albums. Being immediately struck by Word Gets Around’s “Local Boy in the Photograph,” I wanted to hear more. Despite some lackluster records in the last few years, Word Gets Around and Performance and Cocktails are still really strong. But it’s Word Gets Around that I think of in the highest. Songs like “A Thousand Trees,” “More Life in a Tramps Vest,” “Not Up to You” and “Same Size Feet” tell of tales from small working class towns. Subjects like suicide, murder, affairs and pub life aren’t really that pleasing to hear about, but the band has a way of making them work in their tuneful songs. Frontman Kelly Jones has a raspy/bluesy voice that can turn people off, but I just can’t picture this stuff working with anyone else. This is definitely a record worth trading your copy of Be Here Now for.

from Punk Planet #80
Texas is the Reason – s/t EP
Consisting of three songs originally recorded as a demo, this is a fine introduction to this lauded New York post-hardcore band. In my case, it was more than just an introduction to a new band. When it came in a shipment at the big-box retailer I worked at, I was very curious. So curious that I bought it without even hearing a note beforehand. The liner notes, complete with its triple-photo band portrait on the back, didn’t look like anything I had seen from Revelation at the time. I thought they only released shout-y hardcore and fast pop-punk. So, somebody like Texas is the Reason was truly unique in its day to me. That led me to labelmates Sense Field and many other bands like them. This music was never hard, angry or bratty; it was something else. What exactly made up this “something else” category would have simpler names in later years, but the feeling remains whenever I go back to the source.

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