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A Perfect Storm

Burning Brides
Fall of the Plastic Empire (V2)

Sometimes the industry needs a swift and unapologetic supersonic kick in the fruit basket to temporarily lift it out of the futility of the administrative fur trade, and here it is. Philadelphia’s Burning Brides are Syd Barrett meets Guided by Nirvana in a shooting gallery, and not the kind you’re thinking of. At times in your mug like a torrid lap dance for the soul, clasping your throat with clammy hands, and at other moments simply patting your own sweaty head as it rocks into feverish dreams. Fertilized by stupendous down-picking and divergent, ambient interludes, the landscape pours out a bounty of lavish locomotion, nothing furtive or miserable or murmured in respite as if Mom might be watching.

A trio of stormy weather, the Brides usurp all these bands named after items commonly found on unkempt suburban lots (vines, hives, etc.) and lead a much more intelligent, erotic and (let’s face it) rather filthy return to the “real rock,” the music that made men stumble through old-growth forests in untied work boots, clasping cans of horrible American pilsner, to the saltbox suburban homes of their loves, only to discover that her fancy has been stolen by another entrepreneurial young longhair who listens to Marillion and drives the family RX-7.

He may not know it yet, but Virgin’s Richard Branson and his new V2 label have recently secured the rights to one of the finest debut CDs on the market today. What would new labelmates Tom Jones or Moby think of the hellish “Elevator,” or the bloody juices seeping through the modestly cooked flesh of “Plank of Fire,” “Artic Snow” or the scathing “If I’m a Man?” Singer-guitarist Dimitri Coats could care less as he foams like the guilty protagonist of The Telltale Heart, hoarse, raw and ready behind building-razing guitar, bass and drums to punt your benevolent gaze into concupiscence. If yours is a taste for crooked, unremediated highways, welcome home.

—Bill Ketzer

Vinyl Kings
A Little Trip (Vinyl Kings)

Vinyl Kings are a sextet with enough combined experience to run a college of music. Their résumés stretch back some 30 years, with studio and live stints in such outfits as the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Shawn Colvin, Steppenwolf and Jimmy Buffet. They share a common experience of having been glued to their radios and phonographs in the ’60s as the Beatles traded volleys with the Beach Boys. The Vinyl Kings celebrate the former’s rapid expansion from Merseybeat to LSD, with shades of the latter’s group vocals adding extra luster in a couple of songs.

There have been others who’ve paid similar homage (the Spongetones, the Rutles), and the Vinyl Kings need make no apologies for traveling an already-worn path. This is because they’ve invested themselves fully in every aspect of the music, from the songwriting and arranging to the production values. One can play spot-the-reference while listening, or just let it all wash over them, like some dreamstate hit parade. The songs welcome with their utter familiarity, yet are all new. From the McCartney-like sweetness (not to mention the perfect bass part) of “I Took a Chance” to the Revolver-era Lennonisms of “Mind Over Matter,” the 13 songs follow the creative trajectory of the Beatles. And, earning their right to adhere the adjective “Vinyl” to “Kings,” the album ends with their own loopy little run-out groove equivalent.

—David Greenberger

Lou Reed
The Raven (Sire/Reprise)

Lou Reed’s interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe is an all-star double-disc set that aims to modernize one of the most presciently psychological American storytellers. At more than two hours, Reed’s The Raven is an ambitious, often wild work, teeming with almost as many names from among New York and Los Angeles glitterati as Poe characters. Even though it’s decidedly odd, it’s also strangely successful. As Reed says, “It’s no longer than a movie, and what’s the big deal about going to a movie? It’s a movie for the mind.”

It’s hard to tell what differentiates the two CDs structurally—they alternate vocals, spoken-word tracks and instrumentals—but the first, “Act 1—The Play,” is ultimately more theatrical, the second more musical. Reed doesn’t surface until the fifth track, “Edgar Allan Poe,” an arena-rocker in which this pretentious, powerful rock poet namechecks the Poe stories he’ll explore. Cuts featuring everyone from Willem Dafoe (who snarlingly, dramatically recites an updated “Raven”), Steve Buscemi, Elizabeth Ashley, Amanda Plummer and Reed brain-squeeze Laurie Anderson follow. Among the most moving tracks are an update of “Perfect Day,” a luminous ballad from Transformer, featuring a singer named Antony, along with “Who Am I? (Tripitena’s Song),” one of Reed’s best, most vulnerable vocals. Overall, The Raven, a thoroughly different interpretation of Poe from Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Alan Parsons’ ornate, 1975 take on the legendary writer, is a winner. Parts are trying: “Fire Music” is as strenuous as “Metal Machine Music,” and “Blind Rage” is enervating. Parts are magnificent, too, like “Burning Embers” and “I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum).” If nothing else, The Raven testifies to Reed’s contract with Sire/Reprise: This probably cost a pretty penny to make, it probably won’t sell despite all the star power, and it’s definitively arty. Thank God it’s cool, too. Reed and Poe—both a bit touched, both a bit daring—were made for each other.

—Carlo Wolff

Steve Earle
Jerusalem (Artemis)

The new release by the ever- prolific Steve Earle (an album annually for the past six years) is informed by the American experience over the past year and a half. The social and political are framed by the spiritual, with the set opening with the words “ashes to ashes” and closing with the word “Jerusalem.” Earle is not promoting or endorsing the Judeo-Christian ethos; rather, he’s using the language and ideals of Americans. He is, after all, one of our most potent contemporary songwriters, and as such he understands the use of storytelling, of adopting the voice of characters. One such song has brought him no small amount of flak: “John Walker’s Blues.” This brave and simple number gives imagined voice to the frail young man who was no more or less lost than the bohemian seekers of three decades prior, but he happened to end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Earle recognizes that painting Walker as the enemy seriously misses the point, hence his direct first-person approach. Bruce Springsteen devoted his recent album to exploring 9/11, but where his music revels in the anthemic, pushing narrative to the fore, Earle’s music works in tandem with his lyrics. The very sound of the title track overflows with the prayerful hope of the words—on purely musical terms. In fact, current events aside, Jerusalem sparkles with musical delights, from the duet with Emmylou Harris on “I Remember You” to the Augie Meyers-inspired organ part on “What’s a Simple Man to Do?”

—D.G.


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