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Anger, Horror, Introspection
By Bill Ketzer


Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses (Roadrunner)

Slipknot are not your typical angry boy band. They quantify anger in such a way as to deny all personal satisfaction in its manifestation in their psyche. There is no hedonism, no ESPN-2 bullseye beneath their hardened veneer. Anger is eaten and expelled in horrific aural tapestries of phobia and murder. The strict codes of violence wrought in the band’s first two CDs were not a quality so much as they were a boundary, however, insomuch as they presented the music as a defilement to be jettisoned out of that boundary. In an alarming act of personal growth, the unlikely band of nine soundly obliterate the hard shell of their hate-encrusted past with the coarsely introspective Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses. Appearing to loosely resemble some sort of conceptual experience, the album—deliberately free of expletives, radio-ready and poignant—remains a phantasmatic, autonomously brutal force.

Oh, it’s still all here, all the death, suffering, horror and abjection; all the complicitous sarcasm, the excessive fixation on damnation and fear. But Slipknot’s impetuous engine is fueled this time by a simmering self-reckoning, almost as if the demon has suffered a lapse and the resulting logistical prose reeks of beauty, in spite of itself. Yes, the drop-tuned hooks and syncopated breakdowns are still impossibly apocalyptic (check out “The Blister Exists” and “Before I Forget”), but the sheer listenability of the effort, the choruses instantly memorable, the structures possibly more familiar, takes it to a whole new level. It may lose them some fans, but I suspect not many. The songwriting is simply remarkable, with stunning if archetypal performances by drummer Joey Jordinson and guitarists James Root and Mick Thompson. Corey Taylor proves to be the biggest surprise, displaying a diversity that eluded him previously, from the gentle sincerity of “Circle” to the WWE-meets-Ministry “Pulse of the Maggots.” This is a headphone CD for sure, with producer Rick Rubin and engineer Greg Fidelman (Audioslave, Jet, Life of Agony) making sure you hear every excruciating crack and whisper inside the bands collective explosive ethereal plane. The disc kind of craps out at the end with the plodding, grating filler of “The Virus of Life,” and the highly derivative “Danger—Keep Away” with its Ty Tabor-style vocal harmonies, but then that’s just the kind of anomaly one might expect from a tribe who seek to tame their cannibalism.

Wreckless Eric

Bungalow Hi (Southern Domestic)

Wreckless Eric’s career started with a relative bang in his British homeland (a couple hits on the Stiff label in the late ’70s) and since has taken turns that have shaken all but the most dogged fans. Possessing more exuberance and intuitive impulses than traditional skills, he resurfaced in the ’80s under the name of the Len Bright Combo. This brilliantly committed trio cranked out two albums quickly and disappeared. Under-promoted and underdistributed, the U.K.-only albums were ahead of the curve on the lo-fi front and contained the should-be classics “Someone Must Have Nailed Us Together” and “You’re Gonna Screw My Head Off.” He moved to France, doing work under his own adopted name and also a U.S. release with his Hitsville House Band (invitingly solid and virtually ignored). A U.K. memoir, A Dysfunctional Success, appeared last year.

Now Eric Goulden is back under the Wreckless mantle with Bungalow Hi, which contains both stunning revelations and songs. Recording on his own in the past, he tossed production finesse out the window of the speeding car of his creative impulses. But he wasn’t necessarily going after muddy sound as much as he was going after immediacy. Now with desktop digital recording rigs sprouting across the land like a happy rash, Goulden has found the perfect set of tools. He’s capturing his inclinations and doing so without lowering the sonic bar. Furthermore, his musical palette, always rather simple, has broadened a bit. The disc opens with the atmospheric title track, making it clear he’s been finding new sounds in his home studio. This gives way to the familiar sounds of his ultra-English diction and choice of words with “Same,” an autobiographical number that’s at once downbeat and friendly. At the heart of the set is the incredible “33s + 45s.” This tale of a relationship ended is set against a lifetime love of music and finds new and personal ways to explain both.

—David Greenberger

Marianne Faithfull

Before the Poison (Anti)

The sexiest crone of all, Marianne Faithfull doesn’t care about the upbeat. Her specialty is weariness, her approach guarded, her artistry surely and painfully earned. On her first album in nearly three years, she allies with fellow darkness connoisseurs PJ Harvey and Nick Cave, who contribute marvelous work. So does Blur-man Damon Albarn, whose “Last Song” is among the loveliest and most idyllic that Faithfull, the legendary bird of the original swinging London, has ever articulated. By now, Faithfull can express almost anything, not surprising considering the woman sang the pastoral “As Tears Go By” and the fantastic, and sadly wise, “Sister Morphine” in the same decade, the ’60s. For the past 25 years, however, Faithfull has been her own person: femme fatale, junkie, domestic goddess, theatrical figure, all rolled into one. All those personae come together here, particularly in the tunes by Harvey. The Polly Jean tracks seem to burrow instantly into Faithfull’s mind whether they speak of love (the throbbing, urgent “The Mystery of Love”), friendship (the oddly calming “My Friends Have”) or generational kissoff (the paradoxically dismissive/affectionate “No Child of Mine”). The Cave tunes, helped by several Bad Seeds, are even darker and perhaps more strained; “Desperanto,” a Heaven 17-styled rant against vibes gone particularly bad since 9/11, jars what otherwise is a wonderfully smooth, wonderfully disturbing album. Faithfull’s benchmark remains her startling 1979 album, “Broken English,” a singular declaration of feminist despair. But “Before the Poison,” despite occasional lapses of tone (Faithfull’s lyrics on “City of Quartz” are great but Jon Brion’s music is a tad dainty), comes up similarly long and timeless.

—Carlo Wolff

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