Never-ending Stories

Stooges are back; Stanley Brothers were never gone; The Eternals are always confusing

The Stooges

The Weirdness (Virgin)

Rock'n'roll bands are forever. Predictably, The Stooges' resurrection caused elation among the band's diehard fans and a little bit of headscratching in the rest of the worldâ"especially when the band announced its intention to record another album after a 34-year absence.

The Weirdness has received heaps of critical lambaste, and the derision is not exactly warranted. Sure, it would've been impossible for the band to recreate the primordial, lysergic mindwarp of its first three protopunk masterpieces. So Stooges auteur Iggy Pop has instead opted to make an album that is reflective of his current position as a rich and horny old rock star.

Thumbing his nose at critical expectations, Pop is the embodiment of the American dream: After 40 years of obscurity, insanity and dissolution, he has emerged as a cultural icon, gleefully reaping his due. Money seems to be one of Pop's obsessions, and he's not afraid to publicly wallow in its excess, much as he wallowed in drugs for decades prior. Throughout Weirdness , Pop flaunts his success and dares the world to challenge him. Assured of a critical backlash, Pop makes asides throughout the album, explaining that he just doesn't care what anybody thinks.

Musically, Weirdness delivers midtempo, meat-and-potatoes rock lacking in the psychedelic sludge of the band's previous oeuvre. Steve Albini's â“productionâ” is a detriment; there are times when Iggy's vocals slip off key and should have been repaired, the drums are too loud, and the cold, metallic sound seems sterile.  

Making an album that would stand up to the unholy triad of The Stooges' old albums was an unattainable goal. The band didn't even try. Instead, they joyously slammed out some new tunes with the aim of pleasing themselves. After all, when the mighty Stooges want to make more music, who are we, mere mortals, to question their motives?

â" John Sewell

The Stanley Brothers

The Definitive Collection (Time Life)

Spanning 20 years, 1947-1966, this collection has the best of The Stanley Brothers' â“high lonesomeâ” sound, which was, at the time, a strange harmony, unlike anything coming out of the hills. It's now industry standard, as bluegrass aficionados, perhaps unintentionally, ape the Brothers' pure backwoods style. Totally untrained yet wholly beautiful in its poignancy and purity, Carter's baritone comes ahead of Ralph's mountain tenor. These pitches overlap, inflecting every word they've ever sung with a crisp, nasally whail, more hillbilly than Bill Monroe. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! How do you get to Nashville? Sing through your nose!

This three-CD box set captures all of it, from the gospel tunes that were revitalized in the Cohen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? to the early live performances, where we can hear how the brothers bantered with their audiences. Carter takes the role of charismatic pompadour, while Ralph is more subdued, more comfortable behind the limelight. Most of us know the Stanley Brothers through their music, the scratchy recordings that seem so quaint next to the aural mindtrip of, say, Earl Scruggs' banjo picking.

There's almost too much to digest, whether it's their hillbilly humility, churchy jubilation or memories of isolation from the ones they loved. It's all there, not only in the mastered studio recordings, but also in the photographs and especially in their live sessions. These songs offer more psychological mindcrime than most countrified troubadours. The Stanley Brothers, they got it right the first time.

â“I don't figure we're bluegrass. We're the Stanley Brothers,â” Carter once mused. â“I think as long as you sing a song with the best feeling you've got, and if you do feel it, I think the people will know it and they'll call it whatever they want to call it.â” Listen to the song â“Nobody's Business,â” and you'll get it.

â" Kevin Crowe

The Eternals

Heavy International (Aesthetics)

The Eternals are one of those bands that is too smart for its own good. Certainly an ambitious collection, Heavy International draws from a wide palate of styles in hopes of producing something innovative, cerebral and different. Unfortunately, the group's musical miscellany is a burden that serves to dilute the grooves. Perhaps a well-meaning experiment, the album is mired in self-conscious eclecticism.

The title of the first track, â“The Mix Is So Bizarre,â” seems an unfortunate indicator of what lies in store for the listener. The band mixes a heavy dub reggae groove with political punk proselytizing, samples, and occasional bursts of jazz instrumentation. While this sonic olio seems intriguing in theory, the resulting music and the scattershot polemic of the lyrics are dry, uninvolving and sometimes pretentious.

The X-factor and Achilles' heel of the band is vocalist Damon Locks. His adenoidal toasting/singing style is a vexation, a taste that few listeners will acquire. Locks' vocals are often monotone, sometimes ranging into atonal warbling similar to Pere Ubu's David Thomas, but rarely hitting the mark.  

A well-intentioned mess, Heavy International comes off like a post-millennial version of The Clash's iffy Sandinista album with an ersatz David Byrne on vocals. Simply put, the group's ample funky qualities are destroyed by an incapable singer. There's an underlying intelligence to the whole affair, but the album never coheres in a way that moves the body or the mind. Maybe I just don't get it.

â" J.S.


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