Melissa Auf der Maur was fortunate to experience the mid '90s alternative rock explosion firsthand, witnessing its rise and eventual fall from the stage. In an era overrun with uber-cool female bass players like Kim Gordon, Kim Deal, and D'Arcy Wretzky, the Montreal, Quebec native was among the best of the bunch. It caused quite a stir in her home country when the comely bassist abruptly left her band Tinker to become the newest member of Hole, following the passing of the band's original bass player, Kristin Pfaff. Pfaff was called by many the most crucial member of Hole, so the young Auf der Maur had some big shoes to fill, but in the following years, she was able to hold her own with not only her solid bass playing, but her excellent backing vocals as well. Just listen to her give-and-take with Courtney Love on the 1996 cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Black Gold Woman", or her entrancing vocal harmonies on Celebrity Skin's "Boys on the Radio". After filling in on the Smashing Pumpkins' last two albums before the band imploded, she continued to work steadily, her most noteworthy project being Hand of Doom, her Black Sabbath tribute band, but we all knew it would be only a matter of a time before she put out a proper solo effort.
So here you have it. Unlike her beleaguered former bandmate Love, who keeps trying to become a pop rock goddess with only middling results, Auf der Maur has retreated to the heavier strains of '90s rock on her new album, the aptly titled Auf der Maur. Employing the services of producer Chris Goss (Queens of the Stone Age), as well as ex-Kyuss/current QOTSA frontman Josh Homme and former Kyuss/Fu Manchu drummer Brandt Bjork, Auf der Maur's obviously looking to put out one heavy mother of an album, and heavy this one is. Combining the booming, psychedelic stoner rock of Kyuss, the warm guitar drones of Smashing Pumpkins, the progressive melodies of A Perfect Circle, and a very sexy goth style that resembles Italian rockers Lacuna Coil, this album doesn't break new ground; in fact, the music is very ordinary, but the mere presence of Auf der Maur and her intoxicating voice makes the record a modest success.
At its best, Auf der Maur sucks you in with its hypnotically paced, darkly tinged hard rock. On "Followed the Waves", the album's lead-off single, that blend of raw desert rock and more exotic fare works perfectly (Auf der Maur herself admits the song was intended to be a knock-off of Kyuss's Blues For the Red Sun). Opening with Auf der Maur's ostentatious vocal howl, the song careens like a lumbering beast, with Homme's churning guitar riffs and Bjork's distinctive drumming style (thunderous, slow, heavy on the ride cymbal), as Auf der Maur displays great vocal range, singing a melody you'd usually hear from A Perfect Circle/Tool singer Maynard James Keenan. Current UK single "Real a Lie" has more of a metal-meets-shoegazer sound, with its chiming guitars that echo Lush, and is much more upbeat, as any pretentiousness is wiped away by a fantastic climax of bubblegum "do-do-do"'s. "Lightning is My Girl" roars out of the gate as Auf der Maur coos away in that sultry voice of hers, while "My Foggy Notion" and the fantastic "I Need I Want I Will" seem to bring a Middle Eastern element to their melodies. Meanwhile, the erotically charged "Taste You" and the lovely "Would if I Could" have more of a pop rock feel, resembling the best tracks on Celebrity Skin.
Unfortunately, Auf der Maur is far from perfect. The album simply runs too long, as songs like "I'll Be Anything You Want" and "Overpower Thee" are nothing more than dull, cabaret style filler, their Kurt Weill imitations contrasting too much from the rest of the album. Even more irritating are Auf der Maur's lyrics, which are often so juvenile, it's almost embarrassing, as she dares to sing such nauseating lines as, "Plug it in, so I can digest you/ I will taste you/ My appetite in that hole."
Still, despite the fact that the music gets a bit generic from time to time, and that she really has nothing very original to say, Auf der Maur is convincing enough to compel you to let a few missteps slide. With a very impressive lineup of guest musicians, including Eric Erlandson (Hole), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins/A Perfect Circle), John Stainer (Tomahawk), as well as former Tinker bandmate Steve Durand, Auf der Maur is a fine first album. The murky musical style, done to death as it has been, seems to fit Auf der Maur well, her entrancing voice contrasting nicely with the sludgy riffs. She might not garner the media attention that Ms. Love has been getting, but hearing this CD, you know she'll do just fine on her own.