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The Daily Tar Heel

Merchant Stumbles Through Motherland; McCartney Thrills With Breezy-Pop Opus

Be a Criminal

Garrison can serve up catchy pop songs, and it can deliver powerful, aggressive rock. But it's not quite as effective when mixing the two.

Be a Criminal, the band's latest album, has its merits, but it ultimately eludes greatness due to the band's lack of focus.

Garrison doesn't take its music in a clear direction, and the result is frustratingly erratic. This outcome is ironic seeing as how the band obviously had solid, specific intentions in making Be a Criminal.

The purpose of the album, true to its title and the song names ("Choose a Weapon" and "Cover the Tracks With Cash," among others), is to illustrate the band's powerfully delivered view on crime.

Unfortunately, the music's inconsistency blunts that power. On the whole, the band does not craft tunes melodic and memorable enough to be considered pop nor passionately angry enough to be worthy of the hardcore tag. It's too bad, because when Garrison's music is good, it is very good.

The group's talent and potential are not in question, as Be a Criminal has its flashes of brilliance. A couple of songs, such as "Focus, Focus, Focus," stick in the mind with their adequate blend of power and pop. There's a striking, groovy guitar riff here and a particularly incisive lyric there.

But these are just flashes, and the band all too often forsakes these moments of greatness for the average sound that marks the album. Be a Criminal's closer, "Accept What You've Done, Accept Who You Are," builds up nicely but devolves into unremarkable emo-core that's been done before.

There are too many points where the group is content to let mediocre guitar thrashing and uninspired rhythm carry them along. The only aspect that stays strong throughout is the songwriting. In that department, the band has some provocative stuff to offer. It's the music itself that could use a little work.

Perhaps the group will soon choose an ideal path in which to take its sound. The true crime would be for it to continue being stuck where it is now.

By Elliott Dube

Natalie Merchant
2 Stars

Natalie Merchant thanks a myriad of famous women in the liner notes of her new album -- everyone from Amelia Earhart to Emily Dickinson. Even legendary singer Billie Holiday gets props.

Whether Merchant's music will be as timeless as Holiday's remains to be seen, but if she wants to hold up over time, this derivative, hit-and-miss album is not going to help.

Starting from the first track, Merchant's soulful, rich voice is overpowered by different musical influences, including Indian sitars and country banjos. She even attempts to channel Lady Day in the bluesy-sounding "Put the Law on You."

All of this genre hopping indicates her desire to experiment, but this experimentation is done at the expense of her own uniqueness. In "This House is on Fire," for instance, too much emphasis is placed on the Indian feel of the background music instead of Merchant's lyrics and singing.

Her voice is characteristically voluptuous and husky, but here she leaves it in neutral and overwhelms it with figurative bells and whistles.

"Tell Yourself" and "Just Can't Last," sound like half-baked covers of her own over-played singles. These tracks, incidentally, are the first releases from the album.

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Hopefully, this choice doesn't indicate she will stick to her same-old style in the future. Her experimentation pays off in the songs where she lets her voice shine through and allows herself some range.

The uplifting title track and the haunting "Henry Darger" are stylistically opposite, but they're the only songs on the album worthy of the voice that sings them.

These particular songs are like comfort food sung by one of the most melodious voices in the industry. But it's difficult to wade through the rest of Motherland just to hear those gems.

By Allison Rost

Paul McCartney
Driving Rain
4 Stars

It must be tough to be Paul McCartney.

No matter what you do, it's never as good as what you did when you were 25. Everyone thinks that you write too many songs about love (including your deceased former-bandmate). And every time you release an album that has anything to do with your old band, you have to deal with Yoko Ono.

But if McCartney's having a rough time, he doesn't let on with Driving Rain, his first new album of original material since his wife, Linda, died in 1998.

Aside from the moody first single, "From A Lover To A Friend," Driving Rain is pure, breezy fun. Whether it is the influence of his new fianc