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Weekly Alibi Tiny Tunes

By Michael Henningsen

OCTOBER 4, 1999: 

The Cardigans Emmerdale (Minty Fresh)

In these pages in the summer of 1996, a former Alibi contributor referred to the Cardigans' U.S. debut, Life, as "A giant booger in the face of modern music." I understand entirely why the punker-than-thou would despise this band, since everything from their roots in the Scandinavian black metal scene (yes, really) to the fluke success of their single "Lovefool" seems almost designed to piss off the DIY or Death brigade.

For those more into music than ideology, though, this reissue of the Cardigans' 1994 debut is a pure pop delight. Meaninglessly named after a British soap opera, Emmerdale initially sounds as cheery and bouncy as the best bubblegum, albeit with a heavy mid-'60s Europop influence and a few jazzy flourishes. However, as in the music of their fellow Swedes, ABBA, a deep and abiding melancholy is never far from the music's perky surface, as in dark, resigned songs like "Sick and Tired," "Black Letter Day" and "Celia Inside." In this fairly bleak company, the purely joyful "Rise and Shine" becomes positively intoxicating, and the brilliant cover of Black Sabbath's "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" sounds less like a joke than a conceptual masterpiece.

Remixed versions of five tracks from Emmerdale appeared on that aforementioned U.S. debut, and happily, this Minty Fresh reissue rescues the four songs those remixes displaced, including the silly "Pikebubbles" and the delightfully weird 11-minute multipart mini-operetta "Closing Time." If you only know the Cardigans from "Lovefool," then you don't know them at all. (Stewart Mason)

Blinker the Star August Everywhere (Dreamworks)

If Urge Overkill had managed to acquire some depth in the years following the release of Jesus Urge Superstar and Americruiser, they might have wound up sounding as much like late-model Elvis Costello as the trio known as Blinker the Star. But alas, it wasn't in the cards. UO faded from memory as fast as Saturation sold 100,000 copies and the world has proven that we're none the worse without another rock band gone mediocre.

While Blinker the Star have managed to birth a hit or two on their Dreamworks debut, most of August Everywhere is largely forgettable save for the occasional killer hook ("I Am a Fraction") and well-crafted melody ("Below the Sliding Doors"). It's not that the ideas aren't worthy; it's just that their realization isn't quite, well ... fully realized. The exception is "There's Nowhere You Can Hide," a song that sums together the best of '80s power ballads with pure, heartfelt stadium rock and an unmistakeable (if over-produced) indie feel. In contrast, the folky "Right Kind of Girl" fails to inspire despite a powerful chorus that borrows vocally from Built to Spill.

It's not too late for Blinker the Star to blossom, but one wonders if their debut will warrant a sophomore effort on a major player like Dreamworks. Listen first, then decide. (Michael Henningsen)

Outrageous Cherry Out There in the Dark (Del-Fi)

Back in the late-'60s, there was a whole subculture of bands who married standard pop devices of the time -- sunny choruses, catchy and endlessly repeated hooks, jangly 12-string guitars and absurdly prominent percussion -- to the fashions of the psychedelic underground. Derided at the time, these bands (the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Sagittarius, The Fun and Games, and the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, just for starters) sound better today than most "pure" psychedelia of the era because of that attention to pop songcraft which made them so unhip back in the day. The fourth album by Detroit's Outrageous Cherry recreates this psych-pop vibe so perfectly, you'd swear it was a lost classic from 1967, yet it still sounds utterly contemporary.

Pitched almost perfectly between the childlike, whimsical pop of the Apples in Stereo and the darker, droning strains of Yo La Tengo, with Deb Agolli's metronomic drumming recalling both the Velvet Underground and Neu!, Out There in the Dark combines period detail and classic pop songcraft much more coherently than Outrageous Cherry's somewhat schizophrenic earlier albums. Singer/songwriter Matthew Smith has never lacked insistent hooks, but these 13 tracks are near-flawless examples of psych-pop, from the cheerily cynical "Corruptable" and the wildly exciting "A Bad Movie" to the 12-minute freak-out closer, "There's No Escape from the Infinite." I've liked Outrageous Cherry from the beginning, but I had no idea they had an album this instantly memorable and endlessly listenable in them. (Stewart Mason)

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