Rings Around The World
Does America really need to hear about another British band?
The deluge of solid, if uninspiring, bands like Elbow, Starsailor and Turin Brakes is quickly causing American audiences to regret ever having taken the earnest Travis and Coldplay to heart.
But before Americans impose stricter immigration laws regarding those soccer-crazed, pompous British hooligans, they should let the Super Furry Animals and their confounding new release, Rings Around The World, on the boat.
If The Beatles had continued recording after David Bowie and New Wave, it could be argued that they would have sounded quite a bit like Super Furry Animals.
Tracks like the jerky "Sidewalk Serfer Girl," the folky "No Sympathy" and the gently rolling "Run! Christian, Run!" play with a Beatles-esque disregard for genre, style and song structure. And the Super Furries generally combine a sense of passionate idealism with imaginative song topics in the way The Beatles' best did.
"Presidential Suite" marries a critique of the media during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal with heart-rending Bacharachian horns. The song also holds the album's funniest lyric: "Monica and naughty Billy/Got together something silly/Holy wars out of lusty minutes/Another Cuban cigar crisis."
Yet the kaleidoscopic "Receptacle for the Respectable" is the album's most inventive moment and the centerpiece of the astonishing Rings Around the World. The track shifts from a Beatles pastiche to a glam-rock anthem and then segues into an Association-style ballad only to end it all by leaping into a seething thrash-metal siege.
But just because the five members of Super Furry Animals wear their influences on their sleeves doesn't mean that you've heard all of this before. The band pulls an encyclopedia of rock 'n' roll together with its own original twists on the formulae -- check the daring electronic palettes that lace the album's organic guitar- and string-based compositions.
The album is flawless from start to finish and even makes a bid to redeem the vocoder from Cher's inept grasp: "Juxtaposed With U" feels completely natural beneath Gruff Rhys' digitized vocals.
And, as the lucky North Americans we are, we get treated to an equally brilliant bonus disc of seven outtakes from the Rings sessions. There, the folk-tinged "Tradewinds" and the Stones-y "Happiness Is a Worn Pun" are further evidence that the Super Furry Animals inhabit a vacuum of pop music all their own.
In the end, it's not that Rings Around The World feels so fresh and important the first time you hear it. It's more that the Super Furry Animals' colorful pop-rock romp feels revolutionary after you've spun it a hundred times.
By Michael Abernethy
There's no denying that Jeremiah Freed is chock full of talent. But originality -- now that's another subject.
It was less than two years ago when the members of the alternative rock band Jeremiah Freed signed with Universal Records and began recording songs for their self-titled debut album.
While writing songs, the young quintet studied the styles of bands like Aerosmith and The Who to help gain an idea of how the band wanted to sound.
But it seems that in its attempt to follow the footsteps of such rock legends, the band has failed to mold a sound and style of its own.
The album is plagued by unoriginal songs like "How They All Got Here" that incessantly rehash the band members' contemplation of who they are inside. Upon hearing the group's lead singer, Joe Smith, whine for three choruses about how "wasted, tired, used-up and alone" he feels in "Stranded," listeners might wonder if Smith exhibits similar shades of melancholy in his daily interactions with others.
If so, it's no wonder he feels stranded.
Smith also makes a nasty habit of alternately dragging and cracking his voice through verses of otherwise bearable tracks like "Ginger."
With the overdone throatiness of so many alternative rock singers, Smith sings, "Certain kinds of songs leave me without a sound, without a trace/But now I know something isn't right inside of her." It becomes obvious that Jeremiah Freed is trying to pattern its sound after something that has already been heard before.
It is the talent of the band's musicians that keeps this album from being a total flop. Guitarists Nick Goodale and Jake Roche shine in "Eyes, Life, Change," stabilizing the song's weak lyrics with a series of strong, captivating riffs. And tracks like "Wash Away" showcase the band's ability to produce head-bobbing music.
Even Smith manages to sing in a mellow voice more befitting of him from time to time. Unfortunately, it isn't enough.
By choosing to hide behind the styles of past groups, Jeremiah Freed ends up creatively stifling itself. And frankly, "stifled" isn't an appealing sound.
By Jenise Hudson
Tommy Shane Steiner
Then Came the Night
Country newcomer Tommy Shane Steiner is like that kid in high school who always placed third in any competition. You want to pull for him because he sure tries hard, but gosh darn it -- he just can't win.
And with Then Came the Night, it's hard to tell whether Steiner ever will find himself in the top spot on the country music charts. Or anywhere else for that matter.
The contemporary singer's debut LP contains mostly narrative, mid-tempo tunes but nothing especially remarkable. No steel guitar-laden ballads that make you want to cry in your beer. No fiddle-driven foot-stompers that make you want to get up and dance.
Steiner's strongest asset is his self-described "dry vocal" -- a clean, clear voice with a distinct Texas twang. He sounds plaintive and honest on tracks such as "What If She's An Angel," his breakthrough first single that includes Vince Gill on backup vocals. His voice shines again on "And Yet," a pensive, resigned song about lost love.
But Steiner's unpretentious vocal quality is also one of his biggest liabilities. He often doesn't display enough power or passion to make listeners really feel what he's singing about.
On songs such as "Have a Good Time," a rollicking tune penned by Lonestar's lead singer Richie McDonald, Steiner doesn't deliver enough energy to make the tune mirror its title. He relies too heavily on banjo riffs and electric guitar solos to reach his audience.
And Steiner is painfully overshadowed on "I Don't Need Another Reason," an ambitious duet with country icon Randy Travis. He just can't compete with Travis' tremulous, heartfelt delivery in this conversational but cliched song between a bartender (Travis) and a man whose woman just left him (Steiner).
The album hits its low point with "What We're Gonna Do About It," a sappy song about one guy's efforts to woo a woman in the line at Starbucks. Each verse is annoyingly interspersed with play-by-play comments from the woman (supplied by actress Bridgette Wilson, wife of tennis pro Pete Sampras), such as, "How lame is that?"
Steiner certainly has enough star power backing him to have a promising career but proves that his own vocal ability can't stand alone.
If he really wants to be on par with those who've lent their talents to his novice debut, he'll have to showcase a little more finesse next time around.
By Harmony Johnson
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