THE DEAD MILKMEN
Death Rides a Pale Cow (The Ultimate Collection)
THEY SAY A little knowledge is a terrible thing, and I guess it's true. Because the little I knew of the Dead Milkmen was pretty terrible. Their incredibly crappy novelty song "Bitchin' Camaro" was a college radio crossover hit in the mid-'80s, annoying me most mornings of my senior year. So it was with a little trepidation that I accepted the offer to review this retrospective of their "career." Well, I slapped some ketchup on that crow, and damn if it didn't go down all right. Sure, there's a lot of awful shit on here, but there's enough good stuff that I won't be using it for skeet. These guys demonstrate the potential of a novelty band--in their goofy stabs at being clever, they sometimes stumble on the sublime. From their dumb punk roots (best exemplified by "Nutrition," a speedy anthem which extols the virtues of good eating habits), they branch off in some engaging ways. "Surfin' Cow" is an eerily captivating quasi-instrumental that jangles like it came straight out of the Athens, Georgia, of 15 years ago. The spoken-word piece "Stuart" divulges an amusing trailer park conspiracy about "what the queers are doing to the soil." But the one that really sends me is "Life Is Shit," which has all the bittersweet melancholy of a Jacques Brel song--imagine a gaggle of homely debutantes, dateless and housebound on a Friday night, consoling themselves with truffles and caviar (and with that asinine observation, my status as a rock critic is assured).
Howlin' At The Moon
IT TAKES THEM damned feisty, young whippersnappers like mandolinist Sam Bush to simultaneously respect traditional music--bluegrass, in this case--while throwing it into bed with more contemporary influences. Bush loves the present as much as he does the past, and proves it with Steve Winwood's "Hold On," which is a helluva lot grittier than the original; and a nostalgic swing version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," reminiscent of the mandolin orchestras of 60 years ago. Bluegrass music is, almost by definition, conservative--a categorization that Bush has fought through his work with the New Grass Revival, Emmylou Harris and a load of other peer upstarts. And while the mandolinist has been searching for a new gear in bluegrass for almost two decades now, it hasn't happened yet. But when it does, he'll be considered one of a few names responsible.
Let's Go Do What Happens
EX-ROBERT PLANT, Yes and David Gilmour guitarist Francis Dunnery continues his solo career remade as an introspective singer/songwriter. On his latest release, Let's Go Do What Happens, Dunnery mercifully eschews guitar-god wanking in favor of decidedly understated, brief solos. Unfortunately, the album suffers from excess in every other area. Although the packaging does a good job of hiding Dunnery's past, the specter of prog-rock affectation looms throughout the music. Dippy backing vocals, thunderous, overplayed drums and pretentious, Pink Floyd-like spoken passages demonstrate that you can take the dude out of the stadium, but you can't.... The songs themselves are cluttered and awkward. With a voice at times reminiscent of David Bowie and Peter Gabriel, Dunnery belts out the lyrics as if each word imparts age-old wisdom. When he manages to pull in the reigns, as in the acoustic "Home In My Heart," he sounds more on track: The song comes close to being the successful vehicle of sound and intent that distinguishes the best singer/songwriters. On the other hand, the album's closer, "Give Up Your Day Job," mutes this optimism by being the most overblown number presented. In a breathtaking waste of four minutes, all of Dunnery's excesses get thrown into a cannon and shot at the listener. It's an utter mess that makes you wish a sensible and steady hand had been there to pull the plug.
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