"WHAT IS THIS." What Is This. MCA. After years of slugging in out on the local club circuit, where it was labeled musically sophisticated but too "arty" for mainstream consumption, it looks like What Is This is about to have a bona-fide hit with its streamlined, straightforward remake of the Spinners' sophisti-soul classic, "I'll Be Around." The song may seem a bit of an anomaly for this avant-progresso group, but the trio's updating is forceful and haunting, with vocalist Alain Johannes turning in a subtly shaded performance that stands up well to the original.
What Is This' adventurous style is pegged on striking guitar work that recalls the glory days of Hendrix and Cream (Johannes' vocals also have an uncanny resemblance to Cream's Jack Bruce). Aided by Todd Rundgren's complementary production, this record is filled with unique chord inversions grounded by rhythmic structures that create a transcendent yet heavy style. "Stuck," for example, is a churning hunk of syncopated funk reminiscent of Robert Palmer's best blue-eyed soul. What Is This' syncopated propulsions are as emotionally compelling as they are technically intriguing.