Servile or Survivor?

We find out which local CDs can pass our daunting challenge

For those of you going through Survivor withdrawal, this month's Mail or Muse has been conceived with your shallow needs in mind. If you ask us, that series signed off a few weeks too soon. What good is calling Richard Hatch a "survivor" and then shipping him home? Let him sweat it out in solitude for a few more lonely weeks and make him think about the people he voted off that sandy burg. Keep him marooned there with his useless millions like Thurston Howell III with no Lovey and watch the "Hey there, little buddy" jokes fly.

While all you homebodies were entranced by this televised revamp of Ten Little Indians, there are hundreds of bands you've been ignoring, all trying to survive on the local club circuit. And if these acts had only known that eating a rat or walking around nude was gonna do it for you, they would've put down their instruments years ago. Who knows, maybe we can help a few of them in that direction.

For our purposes, we're stranding eight Arizona acts on a mythical island called "Tempe," a harsh piece of land surrounded by Colorado sewer water and lots of microbrewed beer. Like the real Survivor, our tribal council will employ the most contemptuous criteria for voting off our castaways, be it lousy cover art, bad hygiene, hideous promo photos, or, of course, the usual inadequate singing, playing and writing. No one has immunity here, and we justifiably douse the tiki torches of all the bands, save one. And while our surviving band won't be walking off with a cool million, it won't be forced to drive away in that hideous-looking Pontiac Aztek, either. Actually, the winning band won't walk away empty-handed. Our "survivor" will receive a copy of the Survivor boxed set (courtesy of Scotti Brothers Records) featuring 37 different versions of "Eye of the Tiger."

Major Lingo
Pagan Moon
(Bee Butt Records)

Pros: When we pumped some longtime Phoenix residents for information about Major Lingo, most said this group has been around for ages -- as if that were some yardstick for quality. Or survival. We'll skip the band's hippie history and call attention to the impeccable lap pedal steel playing of Tony Bruno and the lush background harmonies as high points. And we might be alone on this one, but the bouncy "Reason" sounds uncannily like the Metropolitan Mattress radio jingle.

Cons: Most of the up-tempo numbers skank along to a faux rock reggae rhythm not heard since Men at Work. Instead of songs about vegemite sandwiches, we get ones with allusions to "child," "moon," "stars" and whatever else they're packing into Lucky Charms these days. The one track included for the purpose of injecting some levity into the proceedings ("No Time for Pottery") must have them rolling in the aisles at the co-op, but leaves our judges stone-faced. A word of warning -- real survivors don't let the drummer sing.

Where's Larry?
(Hollow Music)

Pros: "$2.00 of every CD sold goes to Arizona Children's Charities."

Cons: Despite opening with a beefy number called "Lochness," the balance of these seven songs sound like 10,000 Maniacs, if they'd replaced Natalie Merchant with the singer from Spandau Ballet. (Please, no letters. We know who the guy is. The point is . . . who cares?)

More Cons: Hollow can't be trusted with percentages. Does this excerpt from their bio make sense to you: "Besides a few select interpretations (covers) Hollow only performs 100% original material"? Huh?

Still More Cons: Included at the end of the CD is a live song called "Adore," which was apparently recorded off a camcorder filming singer Ryan Rath's sister's wedding. Aside from some coughing at the beginning of the song and a misbehaving tyke making a little noise, there's little else in the way of audience response. But what really gets Hollow shipped off to another time zone is that the song fades out to the sound of a single hand clap.

Why can't we hear the reaction to this historical live recording? Does someone shout something rude? Did everyone bum rush the wet bar? If this CD is ever rereleased with bonus cuts, will it include the Hokey Pokey?

Idle Bind
5-song demo

Pros: Minimal power-pop punk with as little window dressing as possible. Lyrics are simple, negligible and contradictory, including a song about firearms called "Guns": "Let's play, let's play, let's play with guns/Don't play, don't play, don't play with guns."

Cons: We cannot allow contradictory minimalists on the island, even if they are tight and energetic. We'd be in a real "idle bind" at mealtime: "Let's crack, let's crack, let's crack some coconuts/Don't crack, don't crack, don't crack the coconuts."

The Buggers
The Lorton Lurch

Pros: Only three songs, but what songs! The first two are slabs of punk-metal played as the gods decreed it should be. "The Lord of the Universe" simultaneously travels the high road ("I'll take you to my wonderland where everything is fine and grand") and an extremely low one ("You think my friends are nuts/Well, I'm telling you baby, you're just a fuckin' slut!") before dissolving in a Sam Kinison bitch harangue. On track two, "Space Fox," the band mounts a regal double-track guitar assault that should make Molly Hatchet's triple ax attack embarrassed enough to quit rock 'n' roll and go into the brick-hauling business.

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