Rawkus Records: Best of Decade I, 1995–2005
Oh, the things wrong with that title. To start with, there's the sad wishful thinking that there'll be a Decade II. Then there's the deceptive, preposterous timeline end point that extends far beyond this once-great hip-hop label's vital period. As for "Best of"—hmm. Well, it's the best of Mos Def and/or Talib Kweli, at least. The dynamic Black Star vets were definitely two of the label's biggest names during its late-'90s heyday, and hearing "Respiration" or "Definition" or "Universal Magnetic" again just proves why. But considering that either or both rappers show up on 11 of the comp's 15 tracks, their presence seems a bit excessive, and there has to be a more varied way to fill space. Since El-P spat that he'd "rather be mouth-fucked by Nazis unconscious" than do business with his former label after he'd split off to start his own, Definitive Jux, the complete omission of Company Flow is understandable, if a historical whopper— CoFlow were one of Rawkus' first breakthroughs. Their 1999 still-apt Nixon-Orwell government-paranoia nightmare "Patriotism" would've made this comp crucial. So would Eminem's "Any Man" (from 1999's Soundbombing II), though the rights-wrangling would've probably been a nightmare. Still, it would've been enlightening, if only as proof that this decade's most notorious MC used to rub elbows with Thirstin Howl III. Beyond those, though, this set has basically no excuse for leaving out so many of the label's own highlights here: No RA the Rugged Man's sociopathic "Stanley Kubrick," no Kool G Rap's old-school thug bounce "My Life," no Erick Sermon's ass-whipper's call-to-arms "Battle." They could have also traded "The Blast" or "Umi Says" for Sir Menelik's "7XL"—which shows Brand Nubian's Grand Puba and Sadat X in fine form—or Bahamadia and Rah Digga's fierce "Be OK," even up. And of all the Pharoahe Monch tracks they picked, they left off "Simon Says"? Have fun burning your own—a lot more fun than this
clueless market-dump can provide. NATE PATRIN
One Way Ticket to Hell . . . and Back
The Darkness are like German psychedelic metal band the Scorpions, except not as good. Both bands' lyrics are often incoherent enough to yield the occasional memorable phrase (sometimes strategically employing local dialects) but are usually boring and meaningless. However, the Scorpions had an interesting singer who sounded like Debbie Harry or Nina Hagen, genius guitar players including Uli Roth and Michael Schenker, and album covers strategically employing bubble gum and forks. The Darkness' Justin Hawkins, on the other hand, sounds like a cross between Boston's Brad Delp and Bronski Beat's Jimmy Somerville, and none of the rest of the band does anything as good as anybody, ever. Their album title is Oxycontin moronic and—unlike their debut, which strategically employed air-traffic paddles—this time around there's no flesh on the cover. Tonite they're not gonna rock you tonite. Unlike the Tubes and the Pet Shop Boys, the Darkness haven't found a way to make bad singing and unfunny lyrics work. There's one track worth downloading—the porridge-encrusted "Girl With the Hazel Eyes"—but only for provocation of kilted soccer hooligans when you've run out of Groundskeeper Willie jokes, and for using the word "hazelerer." DAVE QUEEN
EAST RIVER PIPE
What Are You On?
With a lyrical bent toward the loneliness of hedonist escapism, an unnervingly flat voice, and a tendency to counter his simple indie-rock guitar riffs with late-'80s-vintage synths, East River Pipe (the working name for F.M. Cornog's one-man bedroom studio band) evoked ramshackle isolation like few of his peers throughout the last 10 years. After the previous artistic successes of 1999's ennui-on-wheels epic The Gasoline Age and 2003's underrated (if ham-fistedly titled) Garbageheads on Endless Stun, a concept album about the futility of a drugged-out lifestyle should be a natural fit. Unfortunately, the East River Pipe aesthetic is a tenuous thing—slip just a bit, and the straightforward lyrics tip into mawkishness, the synthesizers sound like Steve Winwood on dying AA batteries, and Cornog's nasal singing mutates into a bad imitation of Tom Petty doing a worse impersonation of Jakob Dylan. The missteps on What Are You On? don't overwhelm the whole album, much less a previously admirable discography; "You Got Played, Little Girl" is an oddly endearing what-if that imagines a lyrically unspectacular Mountain Goats shined up for AOR, and the lush M83-as- Yo La Tengo "Shut Up and Row" benefits from the prettiest context ever for the phrase "you stupid fucks." But between all the ill-advised falsettos ("Dirty Carnival"), the uncharacteristically clumsy similes ("I'll walk my robot home/Protect her precious dome/Her bed of Styrofoam/Can never break," from "I'll Walk My Robot Home"), and the incomplete-seeming nature of most of the tracks (most of which parcel out a minute's worth of ideas over two-and-a-half's worth of time), What Are You On? is a question best left unanswered. NATE PATRIN