Various Artists

Rock Out HIV

by Ben Varkentine

cover art

Various Artists

Rock Out HIV

(Don't Know)

Let’s start with the easy part.

Rock Out HIV is available at stores in the Midwest or for $10:00 per copy, shipping costs included, to: Children’s Place, c/o Braintree, 621 N. Belmont, Arlington Hts, IL 60004. Sales of this CD benefit The Children’s Place Association in Chicago, which provides care, summer camps, and medical and social services for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Some of the acts presented on it also appeared at a benefit concert for the same cause in Chicago last year. This is, naturally, noble.

If your tastes run more to classic rock or even post-grunge than do mine, and especially if you want to support the charity, you may wish to investigate this. My sense of the album is that it is material that is not necessarily bad, even if it is not to my taste (and yes, we critics do know the difference most of the time). For me, there’s a lot of “almost, but not quite” here. A lyric might sound like it’s going somewhere clever or witty…but then it doesn’t. A plucked bass line might set my foot to tapping…but then it doesn’t really go anywhere.

The bands, Braintree, Evil Genius, Question Of Honour, and Screaming Meemies (all local to Chicago) all sound to me like fairly generic drums, guitar(s) and bass rock groups circa the end of the ‘90s. The kind of music that, as a genre unto itself, actually stopped growing around oh, say, 1974. There’s nothing really wrong with it or them, but there’s also nothing that really stands them out as originals. The few attempts at “innovation,” DJ effects and such, are already cliches (in case no one’s said this yet, I will: The DJ break is to late ‘90s/early ‘00 rock what the drum solo was to ‘70s rock.) Evil Genius and Question of Honour fare better than the other two bands, in my estimation, and I would be interested in seeing where they go from here. Evil Genius has the more interesting songs (or in light of my comments above, perhaps I should say they have the closest-to-interesting songs), but to be fair they also have twice as many on the CD as Question of Honour.

It’s rough reviewing a CD about which you are ambivalent. Something you like is a breeze—it’s like telling your friends (and we are friends, aren’t we?) about a new musical discovery. Even writing a review of a bad CD can be nasty fun. But when you have something that kinda just lies there, inoffensive but hardly ingratiating, It’s hard to know what to say. It’s rough reviewing a benefit CD. You want to support the cause, but at the same time, you don’t want to just pack up whatever critical acumen you may have developed. This has been a very rough review to write. While this album was by no means a chore to listen to, neither was it particularly enjoyable. Do noble intentions make for a CD you’re likely to listen to more than once or twice after you get it? In my case, the answer is no.

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