What Were They Thinking?

The latest from Chris Connelly, All Smiles, Boom Bip and Marilyn Manson


Chris Connelly

The Episodes (Durto Jnana)

Recognized mostly as one of the architects of '80s industrial rock, Chris Connelly has spent the past decade quietly reinventing himself as a sage-like, otherworldly jazz-folkie in the latter molds of Tim Buckley and Scott Walker.

The Episodes is Connelly's latest foray into long-winded, late-night experimentalism, and much like Walker's much discussed 2006 release The Drift , it's a record that champions patience while flirting with pretentiousness.

It's hard to hear many echoes of Connelly's Wax Trax heyday (Ministry, Revolting Cocks) within these seven sprawling, mostly acoustic, vibraphone-heavy numbers, but there is definitely still an undeniable dark energy that permeates the whole albumâ"it's just been rerouted from roaring metallic noise into somewhat more sophisticated and organic avenues. Vocally, Connelly remains a devout disciple of David Bowie, but he is coloring a bit more outside the lines this time, delivering his complex Scottish poetry in a voice perfectly suited to the music's primordial summertime spookiness.

Two tracks on the album, â“The Son of Empty Samâ” and â“The Son of Empty Sequel,â” actually revisit a song from Connelly's criminally underappreciated 1997 album The Ultimate Seaside Companion . Originally a sparse, four-minute tune called â“Empty Sam,â” the new renditions expand to a combined 20 minutes of acoustic noodling, jungle percussion, manic piano pounding, and even a solid minute of intense crowd whispering.

Thankfully, despite all of the improvisation, conga playing, and implied witchcraft, The Episodes never becomes overly abrasive or unmelodic. The songs are there, and they're solid. They just require a little more contemplation than, say, the Revolting Cocks 1990 (reissued in 2004) Beers, Steers + Queers.

â" Andrew Clayman

All Smiles

Ten Readings of a Warning (Dangerbird)

The reemergence of Grandaddy's Jim Fairchild isn't likely to induce paroxysms of pleasure in the bulk of the nation's rockers, but there are those who hold this man's understated pop in high esteem.

Other than rejecting Grandaddy's persistent use of keyboards and electronics for an acoustic guitar-based sound, Fairchild's approach is essentially the same as his prior band's. And therein lay the strengths, and fatal flaws, of All Smiles' Ten Readings of a Warning . What we have here is essentially coffeehouse music. Sure, it's pleasant enough, and on occasion the melodic oohs and aahs provide a translucent scrim of pop bliss. But Fairchild often veers into James Taylor territory, delivering introspective ditties that are perhaps more interesting to the author than to the general public. As REM said, â“Everybody hurts.â” So what? Sensitivity's great and all, but milquetoast songs of resignation get bland pretty quick.

Ten Readings is the musical correlative to a John Cheever novel: It's intelligently done, well-crafted, and nuanced. Soon, however, the author's restraint and passivity fades into the background. Fairchild's musical palate of ivory, gold, tan, and ecru enables his creation of faint imagery that might actually be compelling, provided it draws any attention at all. File under tapioca for the soul.

â" John Sewell

Boom Bip

Sacchrilege e.p. (Lex)

Jettisoning the meandering, textured, and primarily guitar-based approach of his previous effort, Blue Eyed in the Red Room , Boom Bip returns to the fore with a solo EP that focuses on the synthesizers and sequencers of '80s Eurodisco and its post-millennial doppelganger, electroclash. (Now that â“electroclashâ” has joined the spate of already forgotten quasi subgenre misnomers, I'm confident to use it.) Sacchrilege delivers five endearingly simple dancefloor bangers, and that's a good thing.

Although there's a certain cheese factor to Sacchrilege' s retrogressive leanings, the overall effect of the disc is exhilarating. After all, a dash of schmaltz, when administered with deftness, can add piquancy. Boom Bip creates a lo-fi Kraftwerk/Devo sound that enshrouds a hint of rock'n'roll aggression. So, while the EP isn't exactly powerchords and distortions, a feel of urgency pervades the entire affair. I bet these songs sound great blasting over a huge PA system, sometime after midnight when things start getting a little bit weird.

â" J.S.

Marilyn Manson

Eat Me, Drink Me (Interscope)

Listening to this album is a postmodern endeavor. Step one: Divorce music from author. Step two: Remind yourself that in the postmodern world, depression, obsession and reworded clichés are funny. Step three: Make sure you have something else to do for the next 50 minutes. Multitask. Omni-listen.

Otherwise, you will grow aware that the problem with the sixth studio album by Marilyn Manson is a lack of internal song dynamics in the mixes, vocals and structures. What could be Manson's strongest album since Antichrist Superstar drones due to a lack of distinction between clean guitar and distorted power chords. Changes that would leap to life by raising vocal pitch or distilling a single vocal track from the muddle of layering fail to register. Similarities between four-line verses and four-line choruses obscure each song's first minute from their last, unless you still recall whether the guitar solo already happened.

By track five, Eat Me, Drink Me backgrounds as easily and vapidly as a John Mayer album. Unlike John Mayer albums, however, tuning out tracks like â“Red Carpet Graveâ” is unfortunate because they are not fundamentally bad songs. Nearly every track features excellent riffs from guitarist Tim Scold. The solos fill a void long missing from Manson's music and would converge effectively with the strong percussive rhythms and lines such as The sky was blond like her/ It was a day to take the child out back and shoot it , if only they weren't awash with sonic blandness. Even highlight â“Aliceâ” tracks â“Are You The Rabbit?â” and â“Eat Me, Drink Meâ” come too late, only peering into the rabbit hole, but never actually tumbling down.

â" Andrew Najberg


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