Magnapop, "Rubbing Doesn't Help" ** 1/2, Priority
Westward ho! seems to be Magnapop's motto. On its three releases since 1992, this Georgia alterna-rock band has worked with a famous fellow Southeasterner (Michael Stipe) as producer, a noted Midwesterner (Bob Mould) and now, in producer Geza X (Germs) and mixer Thom Wilson (Adolescents, T.S.O.L., Vandals, Offspring), a couple of mainstays of old-line Southern California punk-rock record production.
What Magnapop's members have discovered in all this cross-continental artistic trekking is that they have nothing left to discover. Time travel would have been better: Had "Rubbing Doesn't Help" come out 10 years ago, Magnapop--who play Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana--would have been on the cusp of something noteworthy. Instead, they have come up with a yeomanly, unobjectionable, but seldom thrilling piece of work in which virtually everything shouts out: "This has been done before."
The only cure for artistic belatedness is a striking personal vision and individual presence that can make up for the lack of a distinctive style. Magnapop's singer-songwriters, Linda Hopper and Ruthie Morris, give us typical alt-rock obliqueness as they sort through a variety of pained feelings with plain, declarative statements that lack detail and context. They show they hurt, then show the gumption to get over it. It's commendable. As rendered here, it's just not very interesting.
The Magnapop sound is founded on basic strengths: a good, garage-rock attack (greatly abetted by guest drummer Josh Freese) and two attractive voices that blend in harmony or square off in call-and-response passages.
The album's peak track--perhaps strong enough to propel the band to success--is the single, "Open the Door." A memorably pleading chorus drives home the song's rejection of self-destructive chic, and a flowing, chiming, Smiths/Johnny Marr guitar sound (uncharacteristic of the album) weaves an elegiac cast for this fine anthem.
"The Family" and "I Don't Care" are the best of the more rough-hewn cuts, but soon that warmed-over sense takes over as the writing flags, permitting attention to wander to how derivative Magnapop can be of such sources as the Pixies, Throwing Muses and Juliana Hatfield/Blake Babies.
"Hold You Down" comes off as warmed-over Garbage, "Come On Inside" passes the Veruca Salt, and the album's folkish ending climaxes in that ultimate cliche, the valedictory thunderclap and rain shower effect, which hasn't been fresh since The Who's "Quadrophenia"--or was it T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land"?
Hopper, the primary singer, has a nice, expressive way of trying to sound fashionably detached but letting shards of frayed feeling rip through her affectations of surface composure. It subtly makes the point that emotional experience is more powerful and real than our put-on poses.
If Magnapop can come up with an album's worth of songs that translate those experiences fully and vividly, it could pull off a magna achievement.
Ratings range from * (poor) to **** (excellent), with *** denoting a solid recommendation.
* Magnapop, Local H and Triple Fast Action play Sunday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $10-$12. (714) 957-0600.