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Double Your Pleasure

The Figgs
Palais (Sodapop)

We’re inundated with ever more information via computers, scrolled messages at the bottom of television screens, and fast talkers (well, they’ve been around for a while). However, we can still only take in so much before we either get angry, tired, stupid or a headache. There are time frames and signifiers we respond to. Breakfast doesn’t take as long as dinner, and family dinners may not last as long as romantic dinners. September still feels like the start of school, even if you graduated 30 or 40 years prior.

And now onto the subject of CDs. Since they can hold nearly twice as much music as a 12-inch vinyl LP, many artists have felt compelled to use the extra capacity. However, if the work in question is not a compilation of some sort, that sort of duration is outside the bounds of the length that we’ve come to expect. Longer than a sitcom but shorter than a drama is a good rule of thumb for an album.

That said, there was a wonderful invention several decades ago called the double album. This became a true test of how fully a given artist understood the temporal dynamics of not two, but four separate 15- to 20-minute statements. The format became standard for live offerings, but a few acts did soar creating actual studio works (while many more succumbed under the creative weight of the task). Add to the list of success stories the Figgs. Granted, Palais is a two-CD set, but with each disc clocking in under 40 minutes and disc one listed as sides one and two, disc two as three and four, their reference points are clear.

After fearlessly expanding their musical palette in the most authentic ways possible, the Figgs set themselves a formidable challenge. From the opening invitation (“Start Credits”) to its closing counterpart (“End Credits”), the 25 songs flow with the confident glee of a trio who know and love the album experience. Highlights include the melancholy punch of Pete Donnelly’s “Nothing But Fear,” the Kinks-taut autobiography of Mike Gent’s “Simon Simone,” and Pete Hayes’ turn at the mic on his “Je T’Adore.” Lesser bands would’ve put the whole shebang on one disc. Well, tell those utilitarians to go home, because life should be suffused with worthy aesthetic decisions at every turn. The Figgs are now in charge of double albums—anyone else wanting to do one, check with them first. Got it?

—David Greenberger

Godsmack
The Other Side (Universal)

I’m not sure which Lortab- popping executive rubber-stamped this acoustic booby trap, but how sweet that it finally casts a wide channel of crappy institutional light on Godsmack’s songwriting vulnerabilities. See, you take away the Daddy Warbucks production and drummer Shannon Larkin’s legacy of brutality, and what do you get? A platter of extremely average, forgettable songs. In fact, the only thing that is truly great about this band in the first place is the aforementioned 90-pound skinsman, who practically starved to death without much thanks in absolutely crushing metal outfits like Wrathchild and Amen, so I can’t begrudge the man his due. But his role is minimal at best here, and this stuff isn’t even suitable campfire music. The rehashing of old Neil Young progressions fused with oh-so-Hetfield vocals and highly over-employed jingle-jangle jam band tomfoolery paints sounds ridiculous with singer Sully Erna’s noxious tenor. It paints just awful visions of corporate sponsorship and state employees drinking Coors Light in meatshop bars. And holy geez, what lyrics: “I thought if I showed you I could fly/Wouldn’t need anyone by my side/Now I’m running backward/With broken wings I know I’ll die.” Yawn.

You’ve heard it all before. Erna croons about pain and darkness and relationships, written in such a vague, white-label way that anyone could, ostensibly, relate. That must be the goal. It’s as if the purpose is to heat-shrink the spectrum of human emotion and experience into a flimsy piece of recyclable plastic. Where is the value in taking such a flame-retardant position on living? What the devil? What the chain? What the hell? We even get predictably reworked versions of “Re-align” and “Keep Away.” As if you haven’t heard the latter on 103.9 one kabillion times. The only tune that kept my head from hitting the keypad was the Middle Eastern textures of “Spiral,” which, if used in place of the original on the band’s Awake CD, might have been a refreshing hiatus from their tendency to find a key and a hook and just drive them home in the same fashion, song after song after song. But that brief convalescence is shattered tenfold by patchy violators like “Touche,” which brings—you guessed it—the congas. Please, not that. Anything but the congas.

The final nail in the coffin is that The Other Side is useless on your computer. The disc is protected, folksies, as has been the practice at Universal for some time. If you like to burn music (and not the way I will burn this one, later, when no one’s around), you’re shit out of luck. The only good that, hopefully, will come out of this marshmallow effort is that perhaps the world will finally realize how breathtakingly vanilla Godsmack really are. But I doubt it.

—Bill Ketzer

Various Artists
You’ve Got Your Orders, Volume Two (Chrome Peeler)

Jason Ziemniak has never been one to embrace the commonplace, the yawn of the green lawn, so to speak. The first and only book he ever loaned me was The Painted Bird by obsessive sadomasochist Jerzy Kosinsky, a pathological liar whose brutal tale of Jewish survival in wartime Poland described, in explicit detail, various acts of torture, rape and human depravity from a matter-of-fact standpoint. It kind of made me wonder where the guy was headed in life, but now we know—on the heels of his successful first compilation (dutifully named You’ve Got Your Orders, Volume One) comes another helping of eclectic porridge for our media-addled gourds. For those who aren’t familiar with Ziemniak’s modus operandi, he took a bunch of his own song titles and wrote his favorite artists as goof to see who would be down, as he puts it, “for making music for music’s sake.”

This collection sees less of the rock that was delivered in the last release. Rather, the CD delves much further into sagacious weirdness, many tracks being ambient stuff from the likes of Phil Puleo from Cop Shoot Cop (“Albino Rainbow”) and sometime Stooges saxophonist Steve Mackay, who gives a smacked-out Bitches Brew-era tribute to Miles Davis during “You Could Smell the Nightmares on the Pillow.” Likewise for offerings from avant-garde composer- guitarist Elliot Sharp (“Barbed Wire Hotel”) and trailblazing ’70s space rocker Simeon Coxe of Silver Apples (“Empire of Ashes”). For me, this is powerful stuff to absorb, especially in the throes of raw stress or anger. If you play this really, really loud, with watering eyes pinched to the point of hallucination, you can almost taste the other side with a clarity that would have made Nietzsche black with envy. OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but give it a try anyway.

There are some shin-kickers as well, however. The Testors’ Sonny Vincent rips out a scorching “Totally Fucked,” and the Scheme (featuring David Thompson of Boston neatnicks the Pills) gleefully deliver the sardonic “Teenage Millionaire.” Other honorable mentions include Fu Manchu/Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork’s aviator-sunglass-Palm Desert-funky “Cop Moustache” and Los Staightjackets hatchet man Eddie Angel’s caustic surfer twang in “Space Monkey Vertigo.” Angel is an Albany native—indeed, Ziemniak always makes sure he represents the 518, yo. But all one can do here, really, is give the potential listener a flavor for the melting piss-and-vinegar pot that awaits them on this adventure. You really have to just dwell into these missives. I’m just the messenger. Don’t shoot me.

—Bill Ketzer


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