Eardrum: Side Effects / Orange Glass: Underwater Underground
US release date: 16 October 2001
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Careful with That Plastic Hip, Eugene
It never fails. With each new batch of discs I receive to review here at PopMatters, there are always a pair that stand out like a sore thumb. I'm not talking about your standard issue bad discs that are easily written up with plenty of nice details to satisfy the curious, but the kind of bad discs that don't really warrant a lot of words, because, well, they're just bad. Discs that you can listen to and not feel the least bit inspired to write about. Such is the case with these two albums. I've listened and listened and re-listened to them, but I'm afraid the spark is not there. The muse has left me on my own to drag through the reporting process.
So with that in mind, let's discuss Eardrum's utterly dull Side Effects first. If any of you recall a little album I wrote about a month back or so, one called Top Dollar by Toby Dammit, then you'll already have an inclination of where this one is heading. Ah yes, it's a dreaded percussionist album. For those of you who like "music", then just simply stay away from this one. Even though there are such things as thumb pianos and Moogs listed in the instrumentation part of the credits for the disc, to me it all sounds like a bunch of clanging around on pots and pans.
Really, one should be wary when "lighting fixtures" are listed as an instrument.
I suppose the beats and tracks offered here would be worthy of being danced to, but only if you're on a codeine/valium cocktail. I mean, enough with the skittering drums and silly electronic gurgles, already. I get the feeling that Eardrum wants to take us on a journey through some darker sides of life, as titles such as "Bone Room", "Escape From Evil", "Darker Still", and "Deep End" suggest, but how much of an overall portrait can you paint with skeletal beats (all right, all you Stomp! fans can put your hands down now)? "Escape From Evil" sounds like a track to some kind of video game, but again, that's not too exciting without the visuals to go along with it.
Final verdict: If you wanna sit around and listen to nothing but drum beats, then Side Effects should be right up your alley. Otherwise, deep six this one.
And now for Orange Glass who are on the infuriatingly named Brobdingnagian label. I hate typing that out, so that's the last time you'll see it here. Another in a long line of bands that are really only one person in reality (Ron Bates in this instance), Orange Glass has delivered a subpar pop rock album that easily bleeds dry the parched well that so many indie popsters have decided to drink from lately. You know, the one that contains loud and monotonous guitars, off-key singing, and a throw in the kitchen just to see if it works attitude. Yeah, that one.
Move over, Super XX Man. Ron Bates has a shaky, whiny voice that would do your own warblings very proud. "You'll never guess the mess I'm in/Dividing the line we'll cross and spin/You'll never know, you'll never know, you'll never know which way I go/And after now I disappear/Car tires on a darkened road/Don't tell me how fast is too fast to go" sings Bates on "How Fast Is Too Fast". Well, aside from those completely crummy lyrics, Ron likes to try to hit notes that he just can't reach in his falsetto. Oh, there's nothing more embarrassing than hearing a singer crash and burn on the very first song.
Bates tries to rock out on the garage-like "Slender Tongues" that features a whole lot of noisy rhythm guitars raging with each other and Ron's out of tune, out of reach vocalizing again. Needless to say, it doesn't work. No matter how much he'd like to sound like Husker Du here, it just isn't happening. He then decides to recite some unintelligible garbage in the middle of the song. You don't wonder what he's saying; you just wish he'd be quiet.
Dig the poor and claustrophobic mix on "Britain". Listen to the clang of "Brazil" as Bates slops in every spontaneous idea he can think of. Try to make your way through the lousy noise of "Escher". No, it's not a cover of the great Teenage Fanclub tune. I doubt Bates would know a good song if it landed in his lap. He certainly shows no knack for writing a good song on Underwater Underground. You'd be far better off just ditching this one as well.
Luckily, you only have to read about these discs (if, in fact, you were interested to begin with). I, on the other hand, bravely kept my ears open and didn't fall asleep too much while listening to these two discs. What will the next two albums in this category of bad discs be? Could they be worse than Side Effects and Underwater Underground? Oh, yes. I'm sure of it. Just as there's always room for improvement, there's always even more room for going down the drain.