Fear of Pop
Fear of Pop
(550 Music)

In the middle of a recent interview with Spin magazine, Korn's voluble front man Jonathan Davis blurted out a kind of off-the-cuff mission statement for his band. Davis said he wants to "bring heavy back into rock 'n' roll. Because goddamned Ben Folds Five sucks. It's fucking Cheers music."

It's possible that Ben Folds had the Jonathan Davises of the world in mind when he dubbed his new side project Fear of Pop. True to its title, Fear of Pop offers a respite to anyone phobic about Folds' usual melodic fare. This busman's holiday for the North Carolina piano man won't convince his detractors that he can carry Limp Bizkit's jocks, but it's solid proof that he can be as weird as he wants to be. Cheers music this ain't.

What this album amounts to is a series of throwaways, some inspired, some pointless. All of them allow Folds to indulge his multi-instrumental skills (he plays almost everything on the album) and to dig deeper into pop's back pages than he usually does with his popular trio.

For instance, the aptly titled "Slow Jam '98" is a mellow soul showcase, replete with strings and layers of Folds oohing and aahing himself into sexual satisfaction. The results are not unlike vintage Earth, Wind & Fire.

"I Paid My Money" enables Folds to relive his youthful Talking Heads crush, adopting the most affected David Byrne voice of paranoia that he can muster over a synth-heavy funk track. You can practically see Folds dancing around the studio in an oversize Stop Making Sense coat on this one. In a more contemporary vein, "Rubber Sled" sounds a bit like a Pavement track in search of a decent lyric, while "Root to This" sounds like an elaborate piss-take on the electronica movement.

Ultimately, Fear of Pop's only real conceptual coup is "In Love," a slow R&B crooner featuring golden-throated space frontiersman William Shatner in a whacked-out love-man monologue reminiscent of the Floaters' 1977 hit "Float On." By this point, Shatner has built a mini-career out of lampooning his own pomposity, but it's still hard to resist this bitter dose of macho sarcasm out of the mouth of Captain Kirk: "At puberty I was sworn to secrecy by the international brotherhood of lying fickle males/I can't tell you anything and I can't commit."

On Fear of Pop, Folds doesn't really commit either, preferring to be a musical tourist or a dilettante actor trying on different characters for size, without ever investing too much of himself in any of them. The results are relentlessly lightweight, but at the very least, Fear of Pop should serve as an intriguing curio for Folds' growing cadre of fans, and a possible point of departure for his band's next move. Think of it as his My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, without the artsy pretensions.

--Gilbert Garcia

Various artists
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts
From the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968
(Rhino Records)

In 1972, America began to wake up from its late '60s hangover--and it sucked.

Every bad thing from the preceding decade was still around-- Nixon, Vietnam. Worse than that, the good things, like the music, weren't there to tide people through. That's when Lenny Kaye put together a little hair of the dog, a garage-rock celebration called Nuggets on Elektra Records. Neither he nor label founder Jac Holzman knew it would become an enduring touchstone, an indispensable item for anyone who believed in rock's do-it-yourself spirit. Nuggets was a whiff of the past that kept a little flame burning until a new wave of punk rock churned out of subterranean New York in the late '70s. (Kaye did his part to help it along by playing guitar in the Patti Smith Group.)

Kaye collected 27 songs and did them up proud, writing liner notes on each tune (and setting the standard for present-day rock archivists). Before Nuggets, "various artist" rock compilations were just slapdash grab bags. Kaye, who had equal dashes of poet and historian in him, took this group of raw singles by garage bands very seriously. His liner notes introduced many fans to the term "punk rock" for the first time.

Scoring a copy of the original Nuggets, long out of print, is one of the quests that has helped bring vinyl back among kids born a generation after 45-rpm record players cut the original versions of these songs to ribbons.

Rhino Records, which routinely offers boxed sets cut from Kaye's template, decided to revisit Nuggets on CD and expand it to 118 tracks. After all, Kaye and Holzman originally planned Nuggets as a series of records, and certainly enough one-hit and regional wonders were left off the original to fill three more CDs. Kaye was particularly besotted with the lesser-known tunes--preferring the Blues Magoos' "Tobacco Road" over their only Top 40 hit, "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet," and the Amboy Dukes' "Baby, Please Don't Go" over their signature track, "Journey to the Center of the Mind." (Both 1972 exclusions show up on the four-CD set.) Even so, Kaye willingly included such punky hits as The Standells' "Dirty Water" and The Castaways' "Liar, Liar," which in 1972 had not yet been played to death by oldies radio.

Kaye's 1998 additions (abetted by co-producer Gary Stewart) come in the same two flavors--the overly familiar (the Strawberry Alarm Clock's "Incense and Peppermints," The Outsiders' "Time Won't Let Me," and Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' "Wooly Bully") and the ominously off-center ("The Little Black Egg" by The Nightcrawlers, "Diddy Wah Diddy" by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, and "Strychnine" by The Sonics). Different as these numbers are musically, they share a maverick spirit that cuts across talent and skill levels. These groups put everything they had to say into one three-minute single. They didn't know if they'd get another shot.

--Salvatore Caputo


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