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PopMatters Music Short Takes
our brief reviews of new releases
10 February 2006
Straylight Run, Prepare to be Wrong (Victory) Rating: 7
On its self-titled debut album, Straylight Run took straightforward pop-rock, complete with prominent keyboards and soaring choruses, gave it an emo twist, and ended up with something catchy and emotional, if not exactly groundbreaking. This is why the opening track on Prepare to be Wrong, a little ditty called "I Don't Want This Anymore", is causing audible gasps throughout Straylight Run's now considerable fanbase -- it's a quiet, electronic song bordering on ambient, where the primary vocals are done by Michelle Nolan while her brother John takes a backseat for a few minutes. This obviously intentional break from the band's proven formula is meant to get our attention, and it works. The rest of the EP falls back into the established formula, but not without a few more new touches. Most notably, "Hands in the Sky (Bigshot)" is a wonderful slow burn with electronic undertones that eventually explodes in a satisfying, climactic tantrum that has more in common with the musings of Trent Reznor than, say, Dashboard Confessional. The band sometimes gets caught in rote repetition, as on the xylophone-touched coda of "Later That Year", and some of the experiments fail miserably -- the cover of Dylan's "With God on Our Side" is atrocious, even if it does feature some nice little vocal harmonies. Still, Prepare to be Wrong is a statement by a band more than willing to branch beyond the sound that made it successful. That alone could make Prepare to be Wrong worth hearing; that it houses some gems only sweetens the deal.
TOK, Unknown Language (VP) Rating: 5
Listening to dancehall quartet TOK's Unknown Language is sort of like being in a long-term relationship. In the beginning, it's dazzling, filled with boundless energy and exhilarating trips to the dance floor. ("Hey Ladies" and "Solid As a Rock" can rock the club as well as any of the more popular dancehall cuts from Sean Paul or Wayne Wonder.) During the third or fourth track, you let the "L word" slip out. It's too late to take it back, but you don't care. By dreamy tracks five (a remake of the S.O.S. Band ballad "Tell Me If You Still Care") and six (a thankfully liberal interpretation of the ubiquitous poem "Footprints"), you've learned what makes the album tick: a fun party sound with a mix of singing and DJ chatting in buoyant, sing-along choruses. However, nothing comes as a surprise anymore. Is the magic gone? Track seven is the first real sign of trouble. Is that a gospel song? Where did that come from? What kind of freaky stuff is hiding it its closet? I don't even know who this album is anymore. At track 10, you start to roll your eyes. You've heard it all before. Maybe your mom was right. By tracks 12 and 13, though, you've invested so much time that when it asks you if you wanna get married, you say, "What the hell." You're not getting any younger, and it's not the worst album in the world. It's actually improved over the last few songs. It seems to have listened when you suggested it shake up the routine a bit. "High" uses an effective echoing sample, and "No Way Jose" is a dark slice of funk that may be the best of the bunch. So you get hitched, maybe pop out a kid or two, and settle into the humdrum final songs ("The Diwali riddim again?"), and when it ends, you reach onto the shelf to have a torrid fling with a Sean Paul CD.
Mark H. Harris
Terri Clark, Life Goes On (Mercury Nashville) Rating: 6
Something strange happened here. Ten years and five studio albums into her career, the excellent Terri Clark had an album called Honky Tonk Songs scheduled for release in the first half of 2005. The machinery was swinging into gear, the early promo copies had even been distributed, and then, nothing. Honky Tonk Songs disappeared; reportedly a casualty of a major shake up in A&R at Mercury Nashville. Skip forward six months or so, and an album called Life Goes On slips out in the wake of the feelgood hit single "She Didn't Have Time". Nine of the songs on Life Goes On have been remaindered over from Honky Tonk Songs. The new material includes the vibrant, radio-friendly title track and a couple of ballads: the aforementioned big hit and a slow country blues ballad called "Not Enough Tequila". It's a decent enough record, if a little less impressive than both Pain To Kill (2003) and Fearless (2000), but it all seems just a little odd. The Canadian cowgirl Clark has long been a very solid performer with a nice line in precisely the witty tomboy countryrockpop that has made a role model out of Gretchen Wilson. No Holland family roadtrip mixtape is complete without at least one of her tunes. And yet you can't help getting the feeling that somehow one of the wheels has just come off her wagon.
Fielding, Fielding (The Militia Group) Rating: 5
Fielding have the dubious distinction of being included frequently on MTV's Singled Out, the show that featured horny teenagers asking and answering stupid questions. The good news is that the band have overcome such auspicious beginnings. This is an album of pretty good pop music, from the great opener to the often overwrought emotions of everything that follows. Fielding is best when it goes for up-tempo pop and worst when it indulges in slower numbers, exposing vocals that are often weak and sometimes unconvincing lyrics. Though songs like "Big Surpise", with a jaunty piano and screaming outro vocals, are impossible to resist.
.: posted by Editor 8:30 AM