WEEZER  (Weezer)   

Weezer made a big splash in the mid 90s with the irresistible Undone (The Sweater Song), and Buddy Holly (irresistible to others, though not a favorite of mine.)  Shortly thereafter, they went on unofficial hiatus while lead singer Rivers Cuomo went back to college.  A strange thing happened.  Their fan base became larger, not smaller and got way more fanatical.  I don't mean fanatical in the Osama Bin Laden way, because Weezer fans are not like that.  It was more of a "Please get back together and put out a new record, please, please, please?"  Well, they did, and it was worth the wait, even for us non-fanatics. 

You won't find any overly adventurous Radiohead-type stuff here, just straightforward melodic guitar rock.  For the the most part, it is harder than you might think, as on the radio hit, Hash PipeDon't Let Go is a rollicking opener, with the catchy chorus and great guitar.  On the mellow side is the superb Islands in the Sun, with its carefree Caribbean vibe.  It may be the best song about lounging around in the nice weather, since Sly's Hot Fun in the SummertimeSmile is not a mellow song, but definitely moves at a slower, almost sludgy tempo, with excellent Lennonesque vocals.  O Girlfriend is a top-notch closer, and a wistful, yet hopeful song for the Weezer faithful. 

Is there filler here?  Sure, but Weezer is more of a great singles band, anyway.  They are in the firm power pop tradition of a 70s band called Shoes from Zion, IL.  They never made it as big as Weezer has, but they turned out absolutely pure pop songs.  

And, if you can find it, check out Starlight, which is the B-side from Hash Pipe single.  Does anybody know what a B-Side is anymore?  For you young folks, it's the extra song on a CD single.  Anyway, Starlight is a great, classically Weezer song. 

MY GRADE >> B+ (Guitar-based pop music does not get much more satisfying than Weezer, the new Pure Pop for Now People.)    -jb-     

WILL YOU LIKE IT? >> (Most of the record is so irresistibly catchy that I would defy you to dislike it.)       -jb-                      


Le Tigre made a fantastic debut record a couple of years ago that defied categorization.  Punk?  Yes, in that it was more focused on the urgency of the playing, rather than the proficiency, but it sounded nothing like any other punk I've heard.  Riot Grrrls?  Absolutely, but the lyrics brimmed with wit and vigor, not nearly as strident as some of the other grrrls.  Grunge?  Certainly not, but the lyrics evoked the best of Kurt Cobain.  It was a spectacular debut by a band fronted by Kathleen Hanna, formerly the leader of the legendary Bikini Kill.

Feminist Sweepstakes is nearly as good, working in some of the current electronic dance trends, and more overtly (radical and profane) political lyrics.  While losing some of the variety that made Le Tigre an A+ effort, the new music continues to be innovative, vital and damn catchy. 

Opener LT Tour Theme provides the perfect description of Le Tigre music, that eluded me initially - " we're the band with the roller skate jams."  Driven by the cheap drum machine, cheesy synth and fuzzed-out guitar sound that dominate the disc, Shred A laments that "you're wasting my time...it's all so precious/you just throw it away."  Dyke March 2001 is about just what it says, and features a great, exhilarating leap into the electronic music realm, matching Radiohead in seamlessly integrating dance music into a rock context.  FYR, standing for 50 years of ridicule, has some of the harshest lyrics on the record, as Le Tigre's inner radical feminist comes busting to the fore. "Ten short years of progressive change, fifty years of calling us names/Can we trade Title IX for an end to hate crime?"  To summarize the Le Tigre philosophy, we've come "one step forward, five steps back/We tell the truth, they turn up the laugh track."   TGIF is also a standout song, focused on a friend getting fired by an idiot boss. On Guard directly takes on those who judge people by their appearance, as polite a way as I can describe this confrontational song.  Well Well Well  features yet another great, insidiously catchy beat.  

Feminist Sweepstakes finishes with the unlikely, yet perfect combination of Cry For Everything Bad That's Ever Happened - a simple, piano-driven instrumental that defines sad, but hopeful, and the redemptive triumph of Keep On Livin'.  In this concluding song, Le Tigre check off the tough things that face young women (and men, for that matter) as they go through life.  Among them, "disproportionate reactions just won't fade, every dude you see puts you in a rage/Or stupid shit keeps making you cry; your friends are worried you won't tell them why"  But Le Tigre pushes us to "keep on livin'...so you can taste that sweet sweet cake, and feel the warm water in a lake.  What about that nice cool breeze?"  The only live drumming on the record emphasizes the warmth and ultimate positivism of Le Tigre's music.  "This is your time, this is your life and ...keep on livin'"

Falling just short of the caliber of their debut, Feminist Sweepstakes is still one of the best records I heard in 2001. 

MY GRADE >> A (Increasingly assertive lyrics coupled with musical experimentation that clicks more often than not. This is a very good record. ) 

WILL YOU LIKE IT? >> (A very tough call.  If you consider yourself quite adventurous, you could be in for a real treat.)                  -jb-                             


After ten years of doing virtually nothing musically, Joe Strummer has now released his second album in three years. Both albums, Rock Art and the X-Ray Style and the latest, Global A Go-Go are with his new band, The Mescaleros. As he helped expand the sound of punk while with the Clash, Strummer and the Mescaleros expand upon the reggae genre with a more international flavor.  

Bandmates Scott Shields, Martin Slattery, Pablo Cook, Tymon Dogg, and Richard Flack are all over the globe, playing an eclectic whirlwind of instruments. This solid band has created quite a variety of music with influences from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, the West Indies, and Ireland. Strummer throws in an odd assortment of lyrics that range from the absurdity of a David Lynch movie to the obscurity of a Dennis Miller quip. However, his vocal limitations hinder some of the effective mood settings.

 Johnny Appleseed starts off Global A Go-Go. It is an excellent song in the folk/reggae mold. In our hour of need is the hope for Johnny Appleseed. It is a pessimistic song of a world lacking in food and where the door closes on Martin Luther King. "If you're after getting the honey/Then you don't go killing all the bees." Following that up is the most rock and roll song on the album, Cool 'N' Out. It is a guitar-driven, hard-edge reggae song. God baked a bunch of fruitcakes. "They're all over the country/And they're running ours." The title song, Global A Go-Go comes up next with a message to the D.J. to send the music to all corners of the globe. With the help of Roger Daltrey on vocals, they sing of "Quadrophenia in Armenia." And there will be, "Good Hip Hop in Islamabad." Rounding out the top four is the best song on the album, Bhindi Bhagee. This is a fun song about a guy from New Zealand looking for some mushy peas. Informed there are none (thank goodness), he is told that, among other things, there are, "shrimp beansprout, comes with or without/Bagels soft, or simply harder." Strummer tries to explain to the stranger what the music is all about in this friendly neighborhood. And the band plays on with flutes and African guitars. "There's a bunch of players and they're really letting go."

These first four songs on Global A Go-Go are full of infectious hand-clapping energy. The band is on a roll. It is global. But the go-go got up and went with the next song, Gamma Ray. And the album never picks back up where it started. Gamma Ray is weird in its unemotional reggae sound and strange lyrics. It is safer in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of the gamma ray. It is only the beginning of a slow strange ride. Mega Bottle Ride continues on with the strangeness. "I took a tram into the fourth dimension…And don't think we didn't dance/To the records by the Fifth Dimension." Shaktar Donetsk flirts with reggae while Mondo Bongo goes the Latin way with Spanish guitar and Cuban drums. Bummed Out City has an interesting mixture of acoustic guitars, violins, and synthesizers. "It was me, I admit I had the map/This is what I've got to say…/We're in Bummed Out City." At The Border, Guy is driven by bass and keyboards and might have fit in well on the Clash's Combat Rock album. A 17-minute plus Celtic mantra, Minstrel Boy concludes Global A Go-Go. It is a fitting end to this downward trend. Ironically, Strummer and the Mescaleros put the brakes on the music right after singing about the players really letting go. Global A Go-Go starts out with the typical in-your-face Joe Strummer style. And although the songs are interesting individually, collectively the last 53 minutes of the album end up slipping into the background. 

MY GRADE >> B- (The first four songs are excellent. That is more than most albums can boast.)        - sh -     

John Mellencamp has too much money for his own good.  If someone less successful made music as consistent as he does, that artist would receive much more critical respect.  Not to say that he has not put out plenty of filler over a 20+ year career, but when he is on his game, the good songs seem to flow easily.  On his new release, there is plenty to celebrate.  

If there is one complaint I have about him, it is that he just tries too hard.  This is evident on the title cut here, an earnest and solid tune, presenting the trials and tribulations of interracial romance.  It has a welcome guest vocal from Chuck D, but, like too much of Mellencamp's music, its reach exceeds its grasp.  

Where his strength really shows is in the type of tunes that made him the perfect Farm Aid spokesman.  As mainstream country lost its relevance to the heartland, Mellencamp's good-rockin' Midwestern vibe hit home.  On songs like Crazy Island, he sings of America as the "Silent Majority" could perceive it.  "Hey Hey America, you're some kind of crazy island/You're a place where dreams can grow, And there's history in your mansions"  But there's a dark side to our Crazy Island -  "Hey Hey America, with your salesmanship and your salaries/And your strip malls a growin', And your handguns and your heresies/don't hold no responsibility, in this land of easy millions."   Seemingly playing the typical liberal rocker here, Mellencamp is really more in the Springsteen populist tradition.  Same Way I Do and Women Seem are delightful songs, Mellencamp at his easygoing best.  Peaceful World is another winner, with absolutely perfect vocal accompaniment from India Arie.  It again has some of Mellencamp's vaguely political, "let's everybody get along" lyrics.  "It's what you do and not what you say/If you're not part of the future, then get out of the way."

On the negative side, Worn Out Nervous Condition is a little too "worn out," Shy goes nowhere, despite a nice lilting Caribbean beat, and Deep Blue Heart uses a  Trisha Yearwood guest vocal in a vain attempt to bring some interest to the song.  Still, Cuttin' Heads is clearly one of Mellencamp's better albums and an enjoyable listen.

MY GRADE >> B (Cuttin' Heads is certainly not cutting edge, but Mellencamp continues to make solid, underrated music.)

WILL YOU LIKE IT? >> (Most people do; that's why he's rich.)                 -jb-