Alterna-pop's most clever bunch returns—dumb fun or empty calories?
Islands, hash pipes, girlfriends, letters. All perfectly good topics to ruminate on while pounding out 4/4 rock for the masses. But shouldn't Weezer have delved deeper for their long, long, long-awaited third album rather than hitting us with a cookie-cutter riff and the inane lyrics to "Hash Pipe"? This is, after all, the same Rivers Cuomo who subversively sang about having crushes on lesbians and underage fans on Pinkerton, a spectacularly catchy second disc that failed only in the minds of bottom line-minded record company execs and narrow-minded alternative rock fans. Given Weezer's initial success with sweet, seemingly naive songs about sweaters and looking like Buddy Holly on their 1994 debut (the Blue Album), Pinkerton took a bold step—and I expected the Green Album also to push in unexpected directions. Instead, it's an abbreviated (under 29 minutes) romp with a silly first single ("Hash Pipe"), a few irresistible if geeky pop tunes ("Island in the Sun," "O Girlfriend"), and a bunch of power chords poured into the Weezer mold and cast as skater-rawk anthems ("Knock-down Drag-out," "Photograph"). It's hardly an intellectual or even a musical triumph, but then Weezer were never a band to be judged by conventional standards. Especially now, when their staunch constituents pretty much willed this album into existence, the band accomplish one goal and one goal only: to play low-frills rock for the people who love it. Richard A. Martin
The wizard behind Talib Kweli's un-jiggy hip-hop steps from behind the curtain.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli blew heads wide open with their 1998 LP Black Star. Their intelligent, playful lyrics were at once a great leap forward and a return to the old school, and the album's deceptively simple appeal pleased insiders and brought genuine hip-hop culture to yet another welcoming audience of smart, political, nonviolent, and sexually well- adjusted fans of all races. But aside from a few name-checks and a bit of small print, few outside the specialist shops knew much about the wizard behind that album's subtle, clever backing tracks. Now, Cincinnati producer Hi-Tek steps out from behind the curtain and shows us the other half of what makes today's best hip-hop tick. On Hi-Teknology, he rocks his jagged and funky production style—an ideal mix of modern rap's Tourette's funk and genuine Grandmaster Flash-grade inventiveness—behind fresh guest spots from the likes of Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Jonell, and Slum Village. And while most "producer" albums are aimed straight at the crate diggers and beat junkies, with freestyles added to keep their girlfriends or boyfriends from falling asleep, Hi-Teknology doesn't sweat the technique: It showcases his jagged, funky, and accessible backing tracks in a way that keeps the songs out in front. Matt Corwine
God Bless the Go-Go's
New wavers end 17-year vacation with album that's same as it ever was—and that ain't bad.
The Go-Go's launch their first new studio album in nearly two decades with a rousing statement of return ("La La Land") and wrap it up by telling us why they left in the first place: "Who knew we were going down/So careless with what we'd found," Belinda Carlisle sings on "Daisy Chain." Yeah, their stamina withered in the spotlight; but there's also good reason for taking a break if you're gonna keep turning out variations on the same album. God Bless picks up where Talk Show (1984) left off, despite the band's attempts to paint this as an update of their new wave sound. Billie Joe Armstrong brings some fresh bile to "Unforgiven," but Green Day and the Go-Go's have always been stylistic cousins, so it's not much of a stretch. Still, that's no dis—it's time for a solid Go-Go's album, and the band know it. When Carlisle sings "Hello world, we're here again," she's not just announcing a comeback, she's sizing up a landscape of Independent Women and Ladies Marmalade and proclaiming the pop consciousness primed for Go-Go's empowerment (dig the wise homage to owning much booty, "Throw Me a Curve"). Bring it on. Chris Nelson
Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool
Hips, lips, tits, power, trip-hop? Ruby mellow out for their long-awaited sophomore release.
Lesley Rankine is the feminist antidote to industrial rock's testosterone overdose. First as frontwoman for aggro-rockers Silverfish, then as part of motley supergroup Pigface, and now with her solo project Ruby, this Scottish diva has always raged against the established boys' club, proudly flaunting her self-coined motto: "Hips, lips, tits, power." Rankine's ability to channel that anger gave Ruby's 1995 debut, Salt Peter, a ferocious intensity. It was edgy and disquieting, a portrait of a woman scorned again and again. Unfortunately, Rankine appears to have lost touch with that depth of emotion during her six-year hiatus (and since the dissolution of Creation, her U.K. label), as Ruby's sophomore effort, Short-Staffed at the Gene Pool, falls dreadfully flat. Rankine has once again enlisted the help of Skinny Puppy alumnus Mark Walk, but the pair's former chemistry seems to have evaporated. Instead of churning metallic soundscapes, we get stilted trip-hop beats and flimsy horn loops. Even Rankine seems displaced: Computer-altered whispers and saccharine "ba-ba-bas" have replaced her fiery wails. It's obvious that Short-Staffed was intended to move Ruby away from rage and anger; the problem is that Rankine isn't entirely certain where she'd like to go next. Tizzy Asher