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POP BEAT / MIKE BOEHM

Rockers Get a Move On

September 23, 1993

Naked Soul steps ahead, Duq-N-Cover steps lively, and Stacey Q steps into eroticism. But the Swamp Zombies keep stepping in place, and Shakespeare & the Lumberjack step over the line.

Today's column of local record reviews covers a grab-bag of styles. On the album side, there's college-alternative-whatever rock steeped in anguish (Naked Soul) or played mainly for laughs (Swamp Zombies), and a debut album of meat-and-potatoes bluesy hard stuff from Duq-N-Cover. New CD-singles find dance-pop chanteuse Stacey Q attempting a comeback, and rappers Shakespeare & the Lumberjack making their debut, with both acts apparently convinced that selling sex is the way to grab attention. The ratings scale runs from * (poor) to **** (superb). Three stars denote a solid recommendation.

*** NAKED SOUL

"Visiting Your Planet"

Scotti Bros.

This trio, led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Mike Conley, has taken a substantial step forward with its first full-length album.

Naked Soul's 1992 debut EP, "Seed," held promise, but it featured just one original song, "Lonely Me, Lonely You," that had the melodic strength to make it stick in the mind. The catchiness quotient rises considerably on "Visiting Your Planet," and, with massed guitars buzzing and distorting in a consistently thick and aggressive attack, there has been no loss of clout.

Naked Soul's approach is nothing new: It falls somewhere between the Replacements and Nirvana on the continuum of bands in which the guitars bark in raw, gritty homage to the punk ethic, yet serve as a tuneful foundation for vocal melodies that only a songwriter in love with pure-pop could conjure.

Having covered a Who song, "So Sad About Us," on "Seed," Naked Soul here repeatedly borrows the Who's technique of using well-placed backing vocals to accentuate the pop side.

In the middle of the vituperative, garage-punk burner, "You, Me and Jack Kerouac," for example, the band momentarily breaks off its swarming blitz for a chorus of sardonic but poppy la-la-la's.

Echoes of earlier rock also turn up in the jangling, Byrds-derived guitar intro to "Dizzy," and the wholesale appropriation, in "Let Me Down," of the core riff to the Nick Lowe-Elvis Costello nugget "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"

Those echoes from old albums should come as no surprise: judging from Conley's lyrics, his record collection is his most reliable source of solace. The album's emotional high-water mark, in "Dizzy," finds him spinning an old Who album and thinking that maybe the future will be bright, after all: "Listen to 'Live at Leeds,' oh, it sends me / Wait and see, we'll be free, dizzy."

For the most part, the album finds Conley assessing the pain of relationships either crumbling or already reduced to rubble, and not doing a very good job of heeding his own warning, in "Wound" (as in "wound up"), about the dangers of too much introspective brooding:

It spins its web inside your head

Frustration murdering your patience

Digging down inside where the problems always lie

Pulling weeds in your soul again ...

Sometimes I can't hold back the monkeys and the rats

Am I losing me again? In "Helicopter Man," the album's best song, an anguished Conley decides to go airborne in an effort to temporarily escape his pain and wonders which intoxicant to use: drugs, or music (the curdled cry, "wasted!" at the end, suggests the narrator has made the more dangerous choice).

Lyrically, Naked Soul deals mainly in commonplace themes and images (the above quotation from "Wound" is Conley at by far his most vivid). But the music and the singer's ragged-voiced urgency allow the band to reach a sense of sadness beyond words.

At the same time, the forcefulness of the expressive attempt somehow shatters the gloom and at least partly redeems the painful experience that brought it on.

To varying degrees, every song on the album is a lament, but such highlights as "Dizzy" (which comes from the same bittersweet mold as "Lonely Me, Lonely You"), the stately "Wishing Again" and the fine, freely coursing elegy "If It's Cool With You" bring a sense of uplift.

This desire to make transcendent music out of feelings that can pull us down leads Naked Soul to go overboard with songs that take a heraldic, anthem-like tone. Consequently, a sense of sameness sets in down the home stretch.

"Jack Kerouac," on the blazing side, and the concluding ballad, "Visiting Your Planet," offer welcome departures. The latter is an evocative, finely wrought piece in which Jeff Sewell's warm, sympathetic bass line seems designed to comfort a particularly bereft and distant-sounding Conley during his loneliest moment. That quieter side would be worth cultivating further.

**

SWAMP ZOMBIES

"Spunk!"

Doctor Dream

"Spunk" rhymes with "slump," which is what the Swamp Zombies have hit on this, their fifth and least-rewarding album.

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