What happens when Rage Against The Machine turntable guitarist Tom Morello and his fellow lumbering, shrieking instrumentalists collide with the full-throated wail of Soundgarden's Chris Cornell, the Samson of Seattle's ancient grunge mythology? Well, there's plenty of noise and plenty of old-fashioned soft-loud dynamics and a few genuine houserockers until the show eventually wears itself out.
But I can't really say I was surprised by the fact that Audioslave's new album starts as strongly as any recent hard-rock record before it meanders into the last remaining light. It seems as though overgenerosity is as much a part of this kinda-supergroup as it was when its members toiled for different bosses. Think about it. As great as they were, both Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine overstayed their pop moments by one album each. Rage's cover album Renegades was a bum nostalgia trip coming on the heels of their finest album, and I'm pretty sure nobody has ever heard the Soundgarden swan song Down On the Upside. But careers are hard to end. Just ask Michael Jordan. They are also hard to resuscitate. Just ask Michael Jordan again.
Still, it's comforting to hear the Rage boys' racket again, especially Morello's as he coaxes the usual bleeps and squeals from his guitar but shows some astral tenderness on "Like a Stone" and "Shadow of the Sun." The one-two-three punch that opens the album is sure to make you wish you had long hair to swing around. And nobody needs to worry about politics when Cornell is writing lyrics about his pained soul and psycho girlfriends and screaming the hell out of them.
These tried-and-true pleasures are all good for casual listening. But when I tried and tried to get past all that sound and fury, I kept coming up with this distressing equation: Cornell - Morello = Coverdale - Page? --Addison Engelking
On this, her 10th album, singer-songwriter-guitarist Patty Larkin traverses the same familiar but very fertile ground. Red = Luck finds the artist in a partly Zen, partly feel-good mood.
Larkin compares each of her albums to an art opening, in the sense that she explores a different motif with each successive release. An Oriental theme prevails here, with songs about cranes, quotes from the Dalai Lama, and heavy color symbolism. Red = Luck is a sort of manifesto for Larkin, a redhead -- a very grown-up statement of her feistiness, sexuality, and playfulness but also, ultimately, of her acceptance and gratefulness to take things as they are. Ruminations on lost love and lost opportunities find her merely reflective, not bitter at all. Recorded in the aftermath of 9/11, this release emphasizes, more than ever, the need to "be here now" instead of pining for some mythical good old days or fearing a postapocalyptic future. As always, Larkin moves lightly between the gossamer realms of rock, pop, funk, ethnic music, and folk. Achingly beautiful pop songs, exquisite little guitar meditations, and innovative instrumentals abound, all capped off by a bouzouki and mandolin romp with Middle Eastern and Celtic tinges, where East truly does meet West.
Each of Larkin's releases finds her doing bolder and more upfront things with her guitarwork. (She plays a mean slide and ranges from elaborate, tiny finger patterns to a percussive slap.) Her smoky alto voice has never sounded better, and her wry sense of humor and cutting social commentary are still very much intact. I'd say in this sense, with her latest album, we've all lucked out. -- Lisa Lumb
What would it be like if Primal Scream made an album that had more than two or three memorable tracks on it? I was suckered into buying 2000's XTRMNTR because the first three songs promised and delivered on Radiohead's deferred dream of exciting, distorted cyborg rock-and-roll. Those first three songs -- "Kill All Hippies" (sexy), "Accelerator" (distorted and desperate), and "Exterminator" (sexy again!) -- still blow me away. The rest of XTRMNTR was a betrayal, full of mood and drone and synth-plunking and chill-out music.
Every year or two, I wonder if I've missed something when the band releases another collection of new music, but as Evil Heat shows, the band has apparently found a bait-and-switch pattern they love, and they plan on sticking to it. This year's model is composed of more synth-plunking and the kind of loud, vaguely threatening music that Iggy Pop might put on when he wants to have sex. I know consistency, conshmistency. The market rules Primal Scream's decisions, though, and times are tough. They may say they're restless, but I say they're either pandering or totally lost. For the curious, "City" and "Skull X" are in the style I prefer. -- AE