by David Sason
This San Francisco duo brought national attention to San Francisco with their 2009 debut release Album, featuring their shimmering brand of guitar rock, which echoed psychedelia, surf rock, punk and other styles without deviating from strong melodies. On their highly anticipated follow-up Father, Son, Holy Ghosts, Christopher Owens, Chet “JR” White and company sound downright gigantic and ready for the world at large.
Lead track “Honey Bunny” is an epic ode to a desired one, beginning as a galloping ‘60s-rock ditty replete with harmonies and surf riffs before becoming a slowed-down detour into dreamy, slide guitar heaven. Just as ambitious is first single “Vomit”, a compelling six-and-a-half-minute tale of romantic pining that teeters between quiet jangle and power ballad territory, ending in an explosion of sound: power chords, Owens’s full emoting, a female soul singer belting it out, clanging organs, etc.
Even the quiet songs like “Jamie Marie” and “Just a Song” are impeccably produced (by the group and Doug Boehm), with the latter tune’s coda full of strings and flutes that evoke mid-era Beatles, as does everything else on Father, Son, Holy Ghost (harmonies, lyrics, instrumentation, general cheekiness). Throughout the record, Owens’s voice is right up front in the mix while still retaining a reticence that draws you in. And while the songs here are not as intense and passionate as those on Album, they show the group working on their craft more than one would think. Apparently, Girls actually care.
The early reviews are true. The new Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration – an odd pairing to begin with – simply does not work. Recorded in a little over a month this spring, Lulu’s inception was Lou Reed playing “Sweet Jane” with the band at 2009’s starstudded Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary Shows at Madison Square Garden, which was well-received. But that was a beloved Velvet Underground three-chord classic, and Lulu is based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial “Lulu plays” from 1885 and 1904 Germany.
Like 2003’s The Raven, which was based on Edgar Allen Poe’s work, Reed’s lyrics here fit nicely with his career’s societal decay/underbelly motif. Yet despite being an initially interesting idea, Metallica’s accompaniment is jarring rather than complementary. Most tracks begin with the familiar Metallica sound – booming drums, crisp & down-tuned chords – before Lou Reed’s recitation comes in above it all, seemingly freeform in meter. Even more awkward is when James Hetfield joins in – not in any “singing” fashion like we know he’s capable of, mind you, but in full-on thrash-bark mode. Too haphazard, despite the varied talent present. A little more time spent crafting the songs might have helped.
There aren’t really any highlights, but if I had to pick one it would be “Little Dog” merely because it stays with its swells of quiet guitar feedback to serve Reed’s lyrical recitation and doesn’t switch tempos into full-on Metallica mode. On the next track “Dragon”, I couldn’t help but chuckle at Reed’s refrain “Are we nearly dead now?”
Surely Metallica fans will wish the boys had saved some of these riffs for their own next album. But it’s clear that Lulu is by Lou Reed/Metallica, for Lou Reed/Metallica. Kudos to both for following through on a whim. Perhaps it’s the catalyst they both need right now, like David Bowie’s Tin Machine. In that case, I’m curious to see if this shakes anything loose for either icon.
Although not nearly as catchy as albums Girlfriend or 100% Fun, Matthew Sweet’s last solo record, 2008’s Sunshine Lies was hailed as a welcome return to guitar-driven power pop, with A-list session players like Richard Lloyd in tow again. The audaciously titled Modern Art continues in this vein, but with much better melodies and more stylistic variety.
“She Walks the Night” is a classic Matthew Sweet single, a mid-tempo love song reminiscent of “I’ve Been Waiting” or “We’re the Same”. The anguished, bluesy “Ladyfingers” sounds like an Altered Beast outtake, with its throbbing bass and dark vibe, and the sparse, echoey “My Ass is Grass” reminds of Girlfriend’s quirkier half (Side Two).
Fittingly, Sweet is performing Girlfriend in its entirety this year, and these new tracks will fit nicely in the set. Sweet is an artist who needs no seismic shift with each album; his established palette still delivers.