Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Coax "Fear of Standing Still"; Chris Von Snierdern "Wood and Wire"

By Michael Henningsen

APRIL 27, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale:

!!!!!=The Good
!!!!=The Quick
!!!=The Ugly
!!= The Bad
!= The Dead


Fear of Standing Still (Paradigm)

OK, so it's one seriously crappy band name. But these guys are used to that: For 10 years, Coax were known as The Dentists. Regardless, the quartet from Medway, England, had one of the most rabid cult followings in pop, despite never coming close to breaking through in any kind of mainstream way. The Dentists' brand of intelligent, jangly guitar pop has not been fashionable to either the masses or the hipper-than-thou for ages. So they fell between two stools, leaving such classic singles as "Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden (And It's Wintertime)" and "Outside Your Inside" unheard by anyone except the cognoscenti, including psych-pop siren Lida Husik, who did an admirable cover of "Strawberries" a few years back.

So anyway, they got signed to East/West, their two albums for the label (the magnificent Behind the Door I Keep the Universe and the misguidedly noisy bid for commercial-alternative acceptance Deep Six) didn't sell; they got dropped; lead guitarist Bob Collins split, and here's the new and not-improved-but-just-as-great debut by their new incarnation.

Guitarist Mick Murphy's distinctive West Country-accented vocals and idiosyncratic lyrics (song titles include "Harrison Fjord," "Meatball Heroes" and "Trophy Wife") remain the band's most dinstinctive features. Collins' replacement, Chris Flack, has a bit more bite in his playing than his predecessor. (That four tracks were remixed by New York guitar-noise-king Wharton Tiers probably helps.) Overall, the band holds a somewhat wider sonic palette than before--the sweetly poppy "Rebecca in the Presence of the Enemy" sounds just like classic Dentists, but the slamming "Orchestra" and the Bowie-quoting "Ring Master Goes Down" tentatively explore new avenues.

A lot has changed musically in the 13 years since the Dentists' debut, Some People Are On the Pitch, but despite the new name, the lads sound pretty much exactly the same. Bless 'em for it. The world needs more bands like this. !!!!

Chris Von Sneirdern

Wood and Wire (Mod Lang)

Chris Von Sneidern's first two albums, Sight and Sound and Go!, showed that the Bay Area native has committed all his Big Star and Badfinger albums to memory. Unfortunately, they also sounded a little cold at times--CVS sometimes seemed merely like a skilled mimic.

That's not the case with Wood and Wire; there're no specific touchstones for these songs. CVS and co-producer Gene Holder (dB's) have also created a much warmer and more intimate ambience than his previous, almost clinical work. Keyboard whiz Joe McGinty (who also plays on Richard Davies' Telegraph, which I'm reminding you again you have to buy) also deserves extra credit here.

So that's two steps forward, but unfortunately, CVS has also taken one big-ass step back. The songs are, to put it mildly, a mixed bag. Kicking off with the album's worst song, "Starting Out," was not too clever. (Continuing the concept by naming the last song "The End" is just silly.) The song is sluggish, sodden with pointless power chords and at least a minute too long. It sounds like every song that made you stop listening to 107.9 The Edge.

There are other missteps, though none so flagrant as the first. The Wilcoesque "Got A Way With Her" sounds like an alt-country bandwagon jumper, while "Love" and "Feel" are as uninspired as their titles. But let's talk about what CVS got right: Most of the other songs are phenomenal in a variety of styles, from surging and powerful ("I Can See," "Circles") to transcendently lovely (the Dionne Warwick-ish "Don't Worry Now" and the gorgeous, flamenco-laced "Like Me That Way"). Even the second-tier tunes, like "As You Are" or "Split It," aren't as derivative as some of his earlier work. If not for the third of the album that falls completely flat, Wood and Wire would be an album to treasure always. As it is, it's an album to love as long as you have a programmable CD player. !!!1/2

--Stewart Mason

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