Volume 93, Issue 18
Thursday, September 29, 1999
|ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Nails hit it right on the head
Nine Inch Nails
The last time Nine Inch Nails released a record, the music world was still coming to grips with the death of Kurt Cobain. Grunge was huge and electronic music was nothing more than a curious sidebar. Britney Spears was 11, Marilyn Manson was a nobody and Ricky Martin was still on soap operas.
Of course, the Nine Inch Nails album (titled The Downward Spiral) is still regarded as a modern alternative classic. It proved that seemingly uncommercial music could still sell bucketloads and more importantly, it helped infuse a little bit of emotion back into the mainstream.
Fast forward to 1999 and we're again poised for a new Nine Inch Nails release this time, in a very different musical climate. Korn and Limp Bizkit stand on one side of the divide while Britney and the Backstreet Boys are perched precariously on the other.
How curious then, that the Nails' new release, The Fragile, should possess the odd distinction of being both strikingly similar to The Downward Spiral yet at the same time one of the most refreshing releases of the year thus far.
Maybe Trent Reznor simply makes music which is consistently outside of his time there's a certain intangible quality to a Nine Inch Nails record which nobody else seems able to duplicate. So while The Fragile is standard Nine Inch Nails fare, it's still light years apart from anything else in its category.
The opening track, "Somewhat Damaged," is Reznor stubbornly signalling his return to music with an abrasive, hard-edged rocker. "Starfuckers Inc" is an exhilarating pastiche of measured anger. "Into The Void" boasts a slinky rhythm and an impossibly catchy chorus. Elsewhere, tales of alienation and mechanical breakdowns comprise the record and in the context of Reznor's incredible production, rank among some of his finest lyrics.
The bottom line here is that The Fragile is an immaculately produced and engaging listen in which Reznor continues to explore the boundaries of music and sound. It should be required listening for anyone who's sick of the ordinary.
Anywhere but here
The word dramatic comes to mind when trying to describe Toronto based singer/songwriter Tory Cassis' debut album, Anywhere But Here.
Throughout the album, on which Cassis tackles R&B, jazz, folk and rock, what strikes the listener most is how seriously he takes his music. With its full arrangements, punchy horn charts and swelling choruses, Anywhere But Here has the sound of a slick lounge act producing a set of modern pop.
This is not to say this album is an exercise in retro. While the sound is certainly old school, tracks like "The Same Painful Story" feature inventive use of loops and programming and enough sonic tricks to keep the album rooted in the present.
Cassis' deep, powerful voice backs up his musical ambitions well and on ballads such as "Things I Would Say" and "As the Days Are Long," he croons with force, passion and evident sincerity.
Elsewhere, Cassis and his band deliver driving, hook-filled rockers like "If It's Mine" and "Sunrise," the latter dissolving into a funky organ dominated jam which allows the band to show off their musical prowess.
The strongest point of Anywhere But Here is not to be found in its grooves or in Cassis' voice, but in his lyrics. Cassis is a poet in the strongest sense of the word, crafting lines which are as clever as they are meaningful. Songs such as "All The Saints" are so effective in their description of pain and dismay, the listener can almost share the singer's emotions.
Although somewhat inconsistent with a few less than memorable tracks, Anywhere But Here is a strong debut which should alert the world to the presence of a major new artist. Tory Cassis is a talented craftsman whose hard work has paid off in an album which is certainly worth a listen.
Aaron St. John
Free Style Lee
Straight from Cleveland, the land of past rock 'n' roll greats, comes a freshman rapper by the uncreative name of Free Style Lee. On the front cover he boasts a "mental advisory" due to intelligent content, but the contents of this album are unfortunately not indicative of the warning.
Lyrical Landscapes is a very confused album with all the constituent parts of such typical fare. The album is a complete facsimile of every hip-hop album on the market put into one mediocre package. Lee tries to showcase his versatility by including player-hating tracks, MC-hating tracks, soulful tracks and gang-banging tracks in one album, all of which leave the listener dry in the mouth.
His lyrical style and voice are vaguely comparable to that of successful rappers such as Scarface or Lord Have Mercy, but Free Style Lee unfortunately cannot hold a candle to either of them.
The actual beats on Lyrical Landscapes consist of slow tempos, horrible sounding hooks and uncreative melodies. It is reminiscent of the lame, toned down style of West Coast hip-hop. Free Style's attempt to layer a few different sounds, usually a guitar or mandolin, over a roving bass line has the potential to be effective, but turns out awkward and unmusical.
The only somewhat enjoyable track is the first single, "My Time To Shine," which actually encompasses a catchy beat with an effective chorus. There is also a great solo by lead guitarist Sean Cruse, who goes "off" at the end of the song.
Unfortunately, one good song isn't enough to make a great album. This unknown rapper will most likely stay this way until he produces a more dynamic product for the public. Overall, the purchase of Lyrical Landscapes would be unwise unless you're looking for a drink coaster.
Hank Williams III
Hank Williams Jr. had the daunting task of establishing a career in Nashville under the shadow of his legendary father. Now, the grandson of Hank Williams Sr. is beginning his recording career and it looks like he will have no less of a struggle, although it will be entirely different from that of his father's.
Risin' Outlaw, Hank Williams III's first major label release, is a refreshing return to what can now be titled "old country." Williams possesses a classic country voice, full of nasal twang and his songs are far darker and more reflective than most of what passes for country music today.
This may be where Williams' struggle begins. Just as Nashville has turned its back on outlaws like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, it may resist a young upstart like Hank.
Comparisons to late '80s country pariah Steve Earle are inevitable with Williams' "Cocaine Blues," the tale of a drug-induced murder binge, as well as the electricly-charged rumble of "Devil's Daughter." The slow, plaintive "On My Own" is a classic acoustic and pedal-steel number which recalls the pain of his grandfather's song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
Risin' Outlaw is not all doom and gloom, however. "Honky Tonk Girls" is a lively two-stepper and "What Did Love Ever Do To You" is worthy of airplay on any modern station. Williams has managed to assemble a top-notch group of studio musicians, including guitarist Brent Rowan, nominated for the Country Music Association's musician of the year in 1998.
As impressive as his voice, songs and band may be, Williams will no doubt have an uphill battle ahead of him. At any rate, those who enjoy country music which doesn't sound like Def Leppard should support an artist like Hank and give Risin' Outlaw a try.
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