The Amps

It's easy to look back on Kim Deal's checkered musical past and feel pity mixedwith admiration: She's continually stymied by the company she keeps. After watching her play George Harrison to Black Francis' Lennon/McCartney, Dylan to Tanya Donelly's Donovan and, in the latest chapter of this ongoing saga, Jagger to sister Kelly's Keith Richards, one wonders if Deal wouldn't be better off existing in a creative bubble, free to pursue her singular music without the distracting presence of less worthy collaborators.

With Pacer, the debut from Deal's newest project, The Amps, we can stop wondering; unfortunately, the answer might not be the one we had hoped for. Though she's filled out The Amps' lineup with a stable of fellow Daytonians (including Breeders' drummer Jim MacPherson), Pacer is a work of pure Dealism, recorded solely by the singer/guitarist in a continent-spinning array of studios--which in itself is curious, considering the deliberate lo-fi murk that pervades the album's production.

Pacer's 12 tracks bear all the signature characteristics of Deal's earlier work: choppy, agitated rhythms juxtaposed with classic girl-group melodies and a skewed lyrical sensibility that posits Deal somewhere between wide-eyed naif and jaded hag. Yet there's an undeniably half-hewn sketchiness to these songs, the kind we've come to expect from the "side projects" so currently in vogue.

The album starts off promisingly enough with the VU-gone-Merseybeat title cut, and retains a fair amount of momentum through the barn-dance free-for-all of "Fill on Idle," the sloppy (in all the right ways) jet propulsion of "Empty Glasses" and the dreamy "Bragging Party." It would take a team of NASA engineers, though, to get clunkers like the ill-advised space-rock opus "Breaking the Split Screen Barrier" and the supremely stupid and sloppy (in all the wrong ways) "Hoverin'" off the ground.

Pacer may be the real Deal, but it's also araw deal by half, and we're allowed to expect more from the woman who broughtus "Gigantic." Let's hope her sister's methadone treatment takes hold real soon.--Tim Kenneally

Marilyn Manson
Smells Like Children
(Nothing Interscope)

Pretty like Marilyn, scary like Manson, this gang of sonic deviants delights in gender-bending and going to aural extremes. Occupying the damnable crossroads of Ween, Butthole Surfers and Nine Inch Nails (Trent Reznor produced the album, in fact), Marilyn Manson creates arresting, if semi-coherent, soundscapes with titles like "Scabs, Guns, and Peanut Butter" and "Everlasting Cocksuckers."

Manson finds inspiration in the lurid subject matter of TV talk shows, regurgitating their depravity in an effort to bring this country's cultural filth into painful focus. As such, the band's songs brim with tales of trailer-park trash, gang bangers, junkies and sexual perverts.

Smells Like Children begins with a creepy sample of kids bawling before launching into "Diary of a Dope Fiend," a nocturnal jaunt through gurgling noise, reverb, bestial slaughter and God knows what else. The song beneath the clutter is not for the faint of heart or refined of taste. Between a doctored snippet of the band's appearance on Donahue and a bite from their tear-off-your-head cover of Patti Smith's "Rock and Roll Nigger," the band introduces an assortment of degenerates like "redneck burnout Midwest Mike," who sweet-talks his gal with lines like "White trash get down on your knees/Time for cake and sodomy."

This music is meant to chill your marrow, and it does. In the end, however, Marilyn Manson is less a band than a ringmaster holding a warped mirror up tolife in America and directing the audience's attention to their own apocalyptic carnival.--Matt Golosinski

The Dogg Pound
Dogg Food
(Death Row)

"A hustla only hustles for so long and then he's hustled out. .../A playa only plays for so long and then he's played out." So says Big Pimpin'. Prophetic words coming from the Dogg Pound: As Kurupt, Dat Nigga Daz, Snoop Doggy Dogg and friends minstrel their ghetto cartoons once again, it's readily apparent that the g-funk era is played out, too. Ironically, Dogg Food--the main album caught in the election-year battle between the William Bennett/C. Delores Tucker cabal and Time-Warner (which dutifully dumped its profitable 50percent stake in Death Row's former distributor, Interscope)--is as sophomoric and drained of real political content as a rap release can be.

If rap is indeed the "CNN for young black males," as the adage goes, then these Doggs need to cancel their subscription to the Playboy Channel.

As usual, it's the 2 Live Crews of the music biz who wind up the poster boyz for the right to free speech. Snoop needs to stop slumming; it's painful to hear him squander his phenomenal voice on trash like the oddly homoerotic daisy chain of "IfWe All Fuck"--that is, "If you fuck, and if I fuck, and Dat Nigga Daz fuck, then we all gonna fuck."

The image of the matronly Tucker chasing these potty-mouthed kids with a bar of soap would be hilarious if it didn't signify what a trap the music has fallen into sinceDr. Dre and company's gats- and booty-based "reality"--ghetto reporting devoid of analysis or commentary--grew to choke-hold rap discourse. Not only is all rapand hip-hop--from Snoop to Nas to theRoots--painted with the same brush by the fickle public eye, but artists routinely define themselves against the gangsta paradigm.

You can hear it in the East Coast gangsterisms of Mobb Deep or Biggie Smalls, or in the studied seriousness of underground hip-hoppers who have to prove that they're not all gangstas while remaining "hard" just the same.

Of course, Dogg Food sounds great: Main producer Daz follows Death Row's g-funk template to a T, from the almost fascist grooves of "Smooth" to the melancholy Grandmaster Flash tribute, "New York, New York." If you want innovation, though, you've come to the wrong kennel. By the way, after many months of delays caused by the Time-Warner brouhaha, the long-awaited Dogg Food was to be released just in time for Snoop's murder trial. Ain't life a beeyatch.--Sia Michel


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