Industrial Hazard

After a year of delays, N17 prepares to defy everything with a much anticipated new album

You can hear the excitement in the voice of N17 front man, Trevor Askew, when he talks about the August 31 release of the group's long-awaited second record, Defy Everything. For the industrial rockers, the date is certain to be the peak of a five-month whirlwind of activity and planning.

N17 spent much of the late spring and early summer holed up at Village Studios in Tornillo, Texas, recording the album with longtime producer Neil Kernon. Now, the group is in the midst of planning for the disc's release, a series of local performances and a national tour. Fortunately, Askew has had a lot of time to think about all of this. Originally, N17 was to have put out Defy Everything a year ago. But with the group's label, Slipdisc, being part of the massive Polygram-Universal merger, everything, including the band's career, was put on hold.

While most bands would wince at such corporate misfortune, N17 is actually thankful for the opportunity that the added wait gave them. "Last year we didn't have the material to go in and put out Defy Everything. We had enough songs, but we didn't have the material," recalls Askew. "Our producer came down and listened to what we had and said, 'You guys aren't ready. Use this time to write a much better album.'"

Askew says the group took the advice to heart and used the extra time to hone their songs onstage. "We've taken out the Ginsu knife and carved off the fat," says Askew. "There's a lot of songs that we've been playing out for a while that we decided just didn't cut it. They didn't match up to the majority of the material we had ready for the studio."

Askew is convinced that the additional time preparing the material was well spent, at least judging by Kernon's reaction. "When we went into the studio there was never one day when I didn't see that guy enjoy every minute of his job. He knew the material was quality, and he believed in it right away."

The delay also provided N17 an unexpected benefit as the past year has seen the commercial explosion of music with a decidedly heavy bent. "Look back one year and see how much further things have come. A year ago, Korn was just barely starting to get seen, and Limp Bizkit was nothing," says Askew. "Nowadays, it's the biggest thing on earth. I'm happy about that. We are totally different, but we offer just as intense an experience."

An extensive club tour in support of the record is part of the group's immediate plans. However, Askew says there's a chance the band may forego the dates if they can latch onto a bigger tour. One such opportunity will present itself locally, as the band has been tapped to open Ministry's show at the Celebrity Theatre later this month. It's an ironic situation for N17, who long have tried to eschew comparisons between themselves and the industrial-dance pioneers. "There's been such a heavy comparison between us for so many years that the show will give people a chance to see how minimal the similarities really are," says Askew.

Working with Chicago-based Slipdisc has proven to be a dream come true for the group. The label's inherent understanding of the industrial/heavy market and its faith in its artist's vision have been a blessing for the very hands-on members of N17.

"We have it better than most bands on major labels because we're able to dictate how we want to work the record -- what magazines to promote it in and things like that. They look to us for all of that," says Askew. "It's good to know that you're playing a part in your own development and success."

N17 will be performing on Wednesday, August 25, at the Celebrity Theatre; with Ministry and L7. Showtime is 8 p.m. N17 will also perform at a CD-release party for their new album on Friday, September 10, at Boston's in Tempe.

Tell Yer Momma: After more than a year of writing and recording, the much anticipated debut from Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers is finally ready. Group front man, Roger Clyne, recently returned from Los Angeles where he's been working with engineer Mark DiSisto (John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge) to remix a pair of tracks for the forthcoming album. Clyne says he was pleased with DiSisto's remixes of "Easy" and "Beautiful Disaster," although only the latter will appear on the final version of the record. The as-yet-untitled project is scheduled for an early October release and will include the band's first studio effort, plus a live disc that will be sold as part of a specially priced package (for the first pressing only). The live album includes some new material and several covers as well as a pair of songs from Clyne's Refreshments catalogue. The two-disc set will be available at most local record retailers and on the group's official Web site (www.popenema.com). Clyne says plans are also in the works for an October CD-release party to be followed by a national tour.

Dull August Night: My nerves were racked throughout the second night of Neil Diamond's two-night stand at America West Arena last week. I kept worrying that Neil's awed-into-silence fans could hear me mocking his silk and rhinestone chemise, which looked like something your aunt would wear out to her 50th-anniversary bash. But the audience's gaze was fixed squarely on the diminutive singer, and no one even turned around to shush me.

I should start by saying that I wasn't predisposed to hating Diamond. Quite the opposite, in fact. I came with an open mind, ready to be wowed by a man who's supposed to be the consummate showman -- equal parts corn and immaculate cob. I've known people who've gone to see Wayne Newton hating him, only to come away true believers. And certainly Elvis' brand of kitsch wasn't exactly subtle. But even at his worst, no one could accuse him of being anything less than a mesmerizing cultural train wreck.

Alas, after this show, it's clear that Diamond is no longer talented or even interesting. Led to the stage by a small army of what appeared to be his own black-clad secret police, the singer opened with "Beautiful Noise" and "Can Anybody Hear Me." The two songs worked as a glorified soundcheck to make sure everyone could hear the less-than-beautiful noise that Diamond's gravelly voice has become and to lower their expectations accordingly. It was here that we got one of the few cool flourishes of the night with Diamond's excited exhortation, "Take it away, fiddle man!" Always a wild man, that Neil.

Although he wasn't especially glib, the Diamond One did offer a glimpse of his cheese potential with an early post-Littleton peace-and-love monologue, "With all the tension in this world, it's wonderful that so many people can get together in the common goal of enjoyment."

But then Diamond took a "reach out and touch somebody" bit too far when he asked the audience to "humor me and turn to the person on your right and give that person a big kiss. You see how those walls can come down?" Ughh.

Soon I began to notice that Diamond's stage act also included the repetition of a number of key moves: the karate Elvis, the sliding magician palm, the slow motion kiss and the Ed Grimley dance. But the bit of onstage choreography that I (and Diamond himself, judging by the wicked troll-like scrunch of his face) liked best happened after each ovation when he would pull his fists to his sides as if to say, "I got 'em! These freaks are mine!"

And they really were his, despite the horrendous pacing of the show and song arrangements that either forgot or completely destroyed the melodies. "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," was the first of five excruciatingly slow renditions of his once midtempo Bang-era classics. After a while, it began to seem as if Diamond and his band were determined to play every song at the same speed as the rotating stage.

Few in the (primarily middle-aged or older) crowd seemed to notice or be disturbed by any of this. For most the concert was like a time machine -- which, for a few hours at least, allowed them to feel young again. Unfortunately, for me the show had the opposite effect. By the time Diamond was through with his geriatric extravaganza, I actually felt about 40 years older and was left with nothing but an insatiable craving for Geritol and Matlock reruns.

Still, the concert did have its share of stellar moments. Unfortunately, most of them came when Diamond wasn't singing. With his intro to "Brooklyn Roads," Diamond slipped into his everyman duds by claiming (quite laughably) that he had spent the day "walking the streets of Phoenix." As far as the song, Diamond seems to be outMuzaking his own Muzak now. "Brooklyn Roads" was never quite "Detroit Rock City," but Mike Post could sue for the way the tune has mutated into a bad rip-off of the "Theme From Hill Street Blues."

Diamond engaged in obligatory, but no less painful, run-throughs of "Coming to America" (complete with red, white and blue lighting and unfurled flags) and "Love on the Rocks," followed by the requisite product push, a medley from his latest record The Movie Album.

What Diamond did to "As Time Goes By," "Unchained Melody" and "Can't Help Falling in Love," I can only describe in language too unseemly for these pages. Let's just say that if there's a rock and roll heaven, then Dooley Wilson, Roy Hamilton and Elvis Presley are all smacking their palms with tire irons, waiting to inflict a little poetic justice on Neil. The only saving grace of this segment of the show was that the audience was spared Diamond's renditions of "My Heart Will Go On" and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"

The show ended with an obviously hoarse Neil struggling through "Song Sung Blue," "Cracklin' Rosie," "Sweet Caroline" and several other failed showstoppers.

The upshot of the whole experience came later in the night at central Phoenix's Chez Nous, where the house band offered up a far more convincing version of "I Am, I Said" than Diamond had been able to muster for his 16,000-plus fans. Too bad no one heard, not even the chair. -- Bob MehrContact Bob Mehr at his online address: bmehr@newtimes.com

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