Rolling, Rolling, Rolling (09/24/99)
Bicycle, Bicycle (Capricorn 1999) - One-man wrecking crew Kurt Liebert toils effortlessly in the pond of alternative and exploratory rock. Like Beck, Bicycle melds rock, urban folk, and rap to deliver a deft and head-turning mixture.
Bicycle is primarily a home recording, made on an 8-track recorder. Among the fluctuating band members are Chris Ballewe, formerly of the Presidents of the United States of America, who produced five songs.
Liebert lived in New York City for several years, where he absorbed hip-hop in all its glory. After he was laid off from a job with a pharmaceutical company, Liebert and co-writer Forrest Burtnette logged more than 5,500 miles by bicycle across the U.S. while performing almost nightly. Says Liebert, "Those were the good old days."
Liebert now lives in Seattle, where he flies below the scene. Explains Liebert, "I played around town for a while under the name Kurt Benetar, but now I solely play open mic nights . . . I was looking at all these bands and how bad they were trying to fit into a mold or situation. Then it just hit me: I totally did not care to do any of that rock star bullshit. I decided, 'You're going to have to be who you are.'"
From songs like "All of Her Chords" to the chord-rich "View of the Valley" to "High Plains Drifter," Bicycle is like Cake meets R.E.M.
Other musicians on Bicycle include Andrew Massey on lead guitar, Ed Jewell on bass, and Jon Dombrowski on drums and percussion, with a healthy dollop of help from Brian Chenault on guitars and bass, and Michael Musberger on drums.
The highlight of the album is the humorous "Oh Jesus, I'm Dying," a ukulele-strummed white rap piece that stretches deconstructionist rock to its nth degree.
Texas, The Hush (Universal 1999) - Despite their name, there's not a trace of country in Glasgow's Texas. The band's fifth album, and follow-up to their massively successful White on Blonde (which sold four million copies worldwide, and landed five consecutive Top Ten singles in the UK), The Hush seeks to break into the U.S. market with the band's mix of British synth-pop.
Fronted by singer Sharleen Spiteri, Texas is a Big Thing in England. Sharleen co-writes her songs with bandmate John McElhone, formerly of Altered Images. Other band members include Ally McErlaine on guitar, Eddie Campbell on keyboards, and Micke Wilson on drums.
Spiteri has a hot blend of British sex appeal, explaining, "A bit of Baccara, Abba, Roxy Music. Loads of sex in them, they were always, an easy go. But when you become confident, you can be naturally sexy. Ooze sex. Imagine. Just imagine . . . ."
Spiteri's breakthrough came while she was promoting the band's third album, Ricks Road (their most accessible U.S. release). Says Sharleen, "The next morning, ting! I woke up a different person . . .
"I looked in the mirror and my face had changed. From a girl to a woman. The stress and tightness was gone, all that anger, like gone! After that it was, Right, I'm ready to take over the reins, I'm coming through."
While songs like "Girl" have a confident British pop sound, "Zero Zero" has a moody, instrumental feel.
At the end of the day, The Hush is mush. Well-made mush, but still mush. Pleasant club music, but don't look for The Hush to send Texas into the U.S. stratosphere.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Atlantic 1999) - We must be a long way from New York City. Because I didn't hear a word about the off-Broadway glam-rock musical, Hedwig and the Angry Inch (the show is now opening in Los Angeles).
But the soundtrack (produced by Brad Wood, who has worked with Liz Phair and the Smashing Pumpkins) is a pretty good rock record in it's own right. The album captures the headlining performance of John Cameron Mitchell as East German transsexual songstress Hedwig Schmidt, with a dozen songs by composer/lyricist Stephen Trask.
The original cast recording includes the shows complete score, together with a new track, "Random Number Generation" written especially for the album.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened on Valentines Day 1998, and is essentially a club gig by Hedwig, her band, the Angry Inch and androgynous protégée/back-up singer Yatzak (Miriam Shor), intertwined with Hedwig's hilarious, bawdy, and sometimes touching monologues.
Portraying the Angry Inch is New York's City pop-rock combo Cheater, consisting of Steven Trask on keyboard, guitar, and vocals, Chris Weilding on guitar, Scott Bilbrey on bass, and David McKinley comfortable on drums.
Clearly influenced by David Bowie (more "Diamond Dogs" than "Ziggy Stardust"), the album incorporates a bright rock sound. From tracks like "Angry Inch" (an in-your-face rocker) to more subdued ballads like "Wicked Little Town," Hedwig and the Angry Inch seeks to walk that difficult track: the rock opera.
And that's where I question the success of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. While the album has unifying elements, I have a difficult time piecing together a story from the songs (compare with the story line in The Wall by Pink Floyd and by Tommy by The Who).
Which is not to say that Hedwig is a failure; the album creates a certain feel (although I prefer the brash cuts like "Exquisite Corpse" over the ballads). Maybe you need to see it live to get a better understanding.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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