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The Daily Tar Heel

Cracker Struggles With Pop-Stardom; NIN Revisits Misery

3 Stars

The experience of listening to Matt Pond PA's The Green Fury leaves one feeling an oddly pleasurable malaise.

Matt Pond PA, an indie-pop sextet hailing from Philadelphia, blends various instruments into a muffled melancholy. A layering of guitar, bass, percussion, strings and vibes travels on a unsettling trip through The Green Fury.

Sometimes the album seems like a product of a more indie-aggressive version of Coldplay. At others, it's more like a permutation of the The Shins.

"Crickets" begins with almost a minute of strange electronic blurps that hold more resemblance to duck calls than to the title insect. On the other hand, "Jefferson" evolves pleasantly as a lonely hymn whose antiquated instrumentals are backed by a muted french horn.

Overall the album holds true to this less than joyful tone -- but "Silence," one of the album's most alluring and semi-romantic tracks, is a bit more upbeat. A gentle blurring of horns, understated percussion, acoustic guitar and cello yields an orchestral-esque conglomeration that lilts against hoarse vocals from Matt Pond.

Though an amplifier for the album's manic contemplation, Pond's slightly scratchy, whiny vocal stylings can become tiresome. His pleading eases through the energetic tunes but drags a bit through the more pensive moments.

Meanwhile, pastoral and thoughtful lyrics traverse the emotional scale in explorations of situation and place. The band contrasts wintry lyrics that refer to nature and cold with rolling drums and and occasionally more optimistic sound.

The prevalent lyrical theme is not quite so philosophical, though. The band ultimately pays homage to an eccentric obsession with many things Canadian. This fixation could be considered stranger still because of Matt Pond PA's Philadelphia -- as in, not Canadian -- origins. Nonetheless, Canada is the band's focus in both "Canadian Song" and "This is Montreal."

As a result of multi-faceted lyrics, elaborate instrumentals and Matt Pond's distinguishable vocals,The Green Fury feels more like spiraling through moodiness than the raging phenomena the name might imply. Derived from the elaborate indie chamber pop is a lethargic unease which involves the listener completely in the Matt Pond PA listening experience.

By Michelle Jarboe

2 Stars

Cracker is one of those bands that had an all-American, bubblegum radio- friendly hit two years after the grunge wave hit its zenith.

Now, nine years and four albums later, they are still trying like hell to be a credible band.

Since "Low" was released in 1993, Cracker has made it a point to exercise their technical skills and branch out into different genres, yet they still manage to shoot blanks in Forever, their latest LP whose generic title suits the album well.

It seems that frontmen David Lowery and Johnny Hickman threw in a violin (played by Chapel Hill native Margaret White), a couple female vocals and some mildly diverse intros to disguise an album that is ultimately infected by store-bought guitars and drums. This isn't a problem for a band that embraces its pop-rock status -- but Cracker doesn't do this.

Even though the band fails to live up to the eclectic reputation it's seeking, the album has its high points.

Using basic percussion, keyboards and guitars, "Sweet Magdalena of My Misfortune," is a song that smiles at you while it plays. There's nothing fancy about it, but it's still the best track on the album.

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The album's title track takes a distant second. Distinctive guitar riffs and especially smooth vocals by Lowery boost the song's likability, but an embarrassing chorus treats listeners like a van load of youth group twelve-year-olds.

For a band looking to escape pop stardom, it's usually a bad idea to end a song with two and a half minutes of chorus. An artistic decision of this nature seems to be a blatant attempt to make it back onto the Top 40.

Not that it will make it -- the song, like several others that will go unmentioned here -- just seems to reek the same stench that spews from MTV-crazed, God-Bless-America, pop radio on a daily basis. Not bad -- it's just a musical strip of music that fosters no progression.

The only hopeless travesty of a song lies in "Miss Santa Cruz County," which recycles the verse "Let's all be someone else/ I'm tired of being myself" into the chorus and every other lyric of the song. And unlike the rest of the album, even the music is poor -- a shameful disgrace and a waste of a track.

But by the album's last track it feels like the end of a lame blind date: somewhat entertaining but nothing you crave to repeat. Cracker's reputation may be changing from that of its early fame, but there is no sign that its music is.

By Aaron Freeman

Engelbert Humperdinck
You Belong To My Heart
3 Stars

Apparently Cher is not the only one trying to make a come back from old age. Crooner/high-end lounge singer, Engelbert Humperdinck is putting his best white-toothed grin forward and regurgitating his once classic tunes on You Belong To My Heart.

Which is not to say that Humperdinck's music isn't still classic, but it's a different kind of classic. A sort of Barbra Streisand-Christmas or Elvis Presley-in-Hawaii kind of classic. Honestly, Humperdinck's music hasn't aged well. The light jazz stylings are reminiscent of avocado green kitchen appliances and our parents' romantic moments we'd rather not think about. While strains of "Unchained Melody" might tap college students' memories of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore, Humperdinck's exceedingly mellow, yet slightly pained rendition tends towards Leslie Nelson's clay-flinging parodies of said scene.

You Belong To My Heart in its entirety is a bit of a parody (though loyal Humperdinck fans might call it a tribute). Humperdinck is not responsible for writing any of the songs which appear on the album -- "The Very Thought Of You," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" or "Too Young" for example.

But since I associate "The Very Thought of You" and "Too Young" with Nat King Cole and/or his daughter, and neither of them can truly take credit for the lyrics, perhaps this criticism is off base.

However, the album is not a travesty to music. Humperdinck sports a generally unoffensive voice that is smooth and tinged with Bing Crosby and Neil Diamond. His backing band is negligible, filling in only a few flute flutters here and cymbal brushes there on top of a string-heavy, orchestral-style group.

And though Humperdinck appears more plastic than a Ken doll, he solicits some actual emotion from the romantic goop that is You Belong To My Heart. The album is the quick Valentine's Day fix, for the girlfriend or boyfriend who complains about not feeling loved.

After all, who could possibly feel unloved after 17 tracks of previously released Engelbert Humperdinck?

By Sarah Kucharski

Nine Inch Nails
All That Could Have Been
4 Stars

Loud, wicked and haunting, All That Could Have Been captures everything that defines NIN in a smooth live mixture.

Launching electronic, industrial rock out of the underground and into the face of pop culture, NIN has become the leader in its peculiar field.

All That Could Have Been is the story of the journey to the top.

Seamlessly leaping between melodious tragic ballads and roaring energetic firefights, this live LP features a little bit of everything from all past efforts. The result is like a pop-up book made by the devil -- it jumps out, shocks you and tells you of its twisted and dark world.

Leading the tour through the underworld is frontman Trent Reznor, whose vocals sound as beautiful live as they do in the studio. His wicked, serpentine and versatile voice needs no production, which just makes him that much creepier. Danny Lohner, Jerome Dillon, Charlie Clouser and Robin Finck lend a ferocious musical madness that blends smoothly with Reznor's cries for a hypnotic roar.

Though the band revisits nearly every one of its albums in some fashion, there are nevertheless a few standouts that simply throb with energy when heard live. "March Of The Pigs" is a trashing romp with an intense rhythm and fiery lyrics while "The Day The World Went Away" pours out misery and anger in a melodic interlude. But in the driving cut "Closer," the band burns with an intensity that draws the entire crowd into an inspired, devilish chant.

NIN might be getting old, but it still has the youthful energy and twisted disposition to mix anger and misery with good electronic music.

By Nick Parker