The Wolfgang Press
Funky Little Demons
Cranky Little Demons might be a more appropriate description. Showing the equivalent of an extraterrestial's grasp on what makes music soulful and thus funky, Wolfgang Press spews lyrical references to Motown on the first two cuts and lifts the chorus from the Four Tops' "Ask the Lonely" for track three, "Blood Satisfaction." But you won't find anyone on planet Earth mistaking the Allen, Gray and Cox for Holland-Dozier-Holland. This is depressing, low-octane dance music, delivered in monotonous baritones that make Leonard Cohen sound like he's auditioning for Up With People.
Wolfgang Press' lead singer (no one's taking credit/blame on the album's packaging) finds "peace and love--a phony kind of blubber," admits he can't "down bullshit faith" and essays what a wicked man he is on "Christianity" ("Christianity has nothing for me/This Jerusalem holy ground is only fit for mealy mouths"). These are sentiments you'll find in a lotta music these days, but there's nothing--not even good old-fashioned hedonism or devil worship--being offered to replace it.
If you locked these poseurs up in a room with the Reverend Al Green for an hour, they'd soon find plenty of reasons to want to live again. And, more important, reasons to stop making recordings like this.
Proof positive that bands with joke names make joke recordings.--Serene Dominic
Hilux is one of those small recording gems that reviewers love to love and only people who listen to reviewers are lucky enough to hear. Picture the Jayhawks--if they were fronted by a cross between an agitated, young Jagger and Bryan Holland of Offspring. Song titles like "Ditched at the Grand Illusion" and "Daredevil Girl" promise classic, intelligent pop writing on a par with a Costello or Westerberg. Rockets' lead song scribe John Ramberg doesn't disappoint. On the hilarious "Daredevil" tune, he turns the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" on its ear, so now it's the guy who's worried his girl won't make her jump over 20 trailer trucks ("You'll have to kill yourself to live up to your name"). The album's centerpiece, "Johnson's Plumbing Supply," is probably the only song in rock besides the Replacements' "Left of the Dial" that eloquently spells out the tragedy of having a musician pal make it big, while you wallow in obscurity.--Serene Dominic
The Best of Chris Rea
Rea's an English singer-songwriter who's made 13 albums in 17 years, but is largely a one-and-a-half-hit wonder on these shores. For most Yanks, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)," a seduction that oozed out of many car radios in the summer of '78, is the most likely point of recognition. Given that, a little extra effort should've been made to secure Rea's original United Artists recording instead of trying to sneak by a pallid, charmless remake. All that's going to do is piss off people and send them trading in this CD for whatever Rhino compilation does have the original.
But if you're a lite-rock freak stuck between Dire Straits albums, you may want to hang onto this. Rea's voice and musical settings, especially on his '80s hit (just missed the Top 40) "The Road to Hell," have a quiet dignity that recalls a less phlegmy Mark Knopfler. Rea's ballads ("Looking for the Summer," "Gone Fishing") are insightful and topnotch, but his uptempo numbers are embarrassing ("Let's Dance" apes the Pointer Sisters' "Neutron Dance"--eek!) and unimaginative (the title alone to "You Can Go Your Own Way" should prove that).
There's also "If You Were Me," a brand-new duet with Elton John, basically the kind of song that gets tacked onto the end of movie credits after everyone's left the theatre. Not bad, but not worth missing an extra three minutes of fresh air for. Should the duet garner some airplay, Rea will have met his quota of one quasi-U.S. hit per decade. But don't be surprised if the 2013 version of The Best of Chris Rea has him rerecording this duet with George Michael!--Serene Dominic
When you see half your audience base going gaga for Pearl Jam, Helmet and Soundgarden, and the other half just going soft, you start working all the angles. Chant was one of the biggest-selling albums of '94, right? So why not open the new Van Halen album with a blast from the Monks of Gyuto Tantric University? Great idea! Didn't Vitalogy sell a helluva lotta vinyl copies? "Duh, yeah!" say the Halens, "let's try that, too!" And to make sure the new album gets optimum attention, package it in an offensive cover which exploits kids and Siamese twins in one tacky swoop. When you're drowning, you'll do anything to stay afloat--and Balance is one desperate doggy paddle.
Most folks maintain this group hasn't been any fun since Davie Lee thought he oughta be in pictures. Not so. Sammy Hagar, the Mikey Bolton of heavy metal, clocks in just as many yuks as the Rothman once did, albeit unintentionally. Watch how down-and-out Sam goes after the grunge crowd in yet another helium-inflated Van Halen "love" anthem, "Don't Tell Me (What Love Can Do)." Not since Billy Joel's wimpoid claim "I walked the Bedford-Stuy alone" has there been a more pathetic bid for street credibility. "I can drive a car, I can shoot a gun, score me some heroin," Sammy bellows from his Things to Do Today list. He's even ready to "be a human sacrifice, bear the cross just like Jesus Christ!" Not even Stryper was this heavy-handed, and they threw Bibles at their fans!
Sammy decides to push the envelope even further by singing a salute to that other heroin capital of the world, namely "Amsterdam." All the while he's maintaining he's only there trying to "score some Panama red," it's more likely he's there to procure some duty-free Minoxidil. Kurt Cobain's suicide note said his reason for offing himself was that he hated his job. It's possible he just hated being in the same profession with buffoons like Van Halen, who peddle the same crappy recording year after year and think that guitar chops alone will carry the day. These Van Halen brothers will never again make a recording as good as "Ice Cream Man," unless they wake up and ditch Hagar the Horrible for Iggy Pop. Or better yet, Handsome Dick Manitoba. Heck, I'd even settle for Fabio!--Serene Dominic