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When Sweet 75 opened for Dinosaur Jr earlier this year, one impression overrode the curiosity attendant to the re-emergence of Krist Novoselic on the active scene: Wow, this is bad. Novoselic pogoed energeticallyas much, it seemed, to galvanize an unsure crowd as to express his own joy at being onstage againbut the disjointed, herky-jerky rhythms the band produced belied his physical manifestation of the forcebeat. Caterwauling songs pulled over self-indulgent “structures” by the singer, Venezuelan transplant Yva Las Vegas, efficiently rendered Sweet 75 a minor bother, then a major irritant by set’s end. The relief when this studiedly offhand (read: lackadaisical), arty noise ended was immeasurable.
Sweet 75 isn’t nearly as obnoxious as all that, but that’s mainly because CD players have stop buttons. Instrumental competence is theoretically not supposed to be the point in “alternative” rock; a minimum standard, however, is necessary to get the thing off the ground. At times, this album fails to maintain even that. The often-sludgy tempos slide around enoughas on the opening cut, “Fetch”to make the most doctrinaire alt-rocker wish for a click track. Bass and guitar figures (Novoselic and Las Vegas take turns on the instruments) embarrassingly fail to mesh on “Six Years.” In context, the attempted Indian-music-savvy twang of “Lay Me Down” and “Take Another Stab” ends up sounding like unintended dissonance. And this bunch can’t even execute the straight-on speed-rock section of “Bite My Hand” before it gives way to a couple of inept, abrupt changes in direction.
The disc’s pushy eclecticism, of the sort that conveys an impression of indecision and lack of vision, doesn’t stop there. Peter Buck lends mandolin to “Cantos de Pilon,” while trumpet, sax, and trombone are the seasoning on “La Vida.” The horn section may be the best thing about the track, or the album, but it’s also the worst deployment of brass on a rock song since 10,000 Maniacs wasted James Brown’s cohorts’ time on “Candy Everybody Wants.” Guest Herb Alpert tries valiantly to blow some life into the tune, but there’s little for him to work with.
Worst-moment nominees make up the bulk of this thing, but despite lyrics like “The world’s my ashtray” (from “Lay Me Down”), the biggest atrocity here is “Ode to Dolly,” which one imagines is Las Vegas’ 1982-style sneer at an artist (Parton) who can actually carry a tune in a bathtub, and at a style of music that Las Vegas and Novoselic think is unworthy of anything but random jabs: “I want to ride a horse…But I don’t have big hair/And I don’t have/A country dress/To wear.”
Successfully handling deeper content is beyond the duo anyway. Novoselic has made would-be clever remarks in the press about forgetting “what’s her name,” but “Poor Kitty” is such a bad Hole imitation (“Why don’t you fuck yourself/’Cause I don’t want to fuck/Not with you”) that Courtney Love must be laughing as she completes the follow-up to Live Through This.
Not to be cruel, butah, what the hellthe tone of Sweet 75 suggests that Novoselic never completely recovered from the blow he suffered at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards when he tossed his bass in the air near the end of “Lithium,” only to have it hurtle back down onto his noggin. He has also been quoted recently as wondering about Geffen Records’ delay in issuing this long-completed masterwork. From this vantage point, the reasons are pretty obvious.
“Wash Me Down,” a midtempo acoustic ballad on the debut album by Talk Show, brings to mind Robert Plant’s comment that a fair chunk of Led Zeppelin’s repertoire was “music for hippie bookstores.” Talk Show, a product of little-known singer Dave Coutts and the three-quarters of lite-grungers Stone Temple Pilots who aren’t addiction-prone frontman Scott Weiland, alternates between paying outright tribute to Zep’s fourth record and melding its crunch with hooks that draw on the Beatles, T. Rex, and various power-poppers.
If something’s missing from this evocation of past radio glories, it’s the spark that Weiland’s growling presence brought to STP’s very similar mix. Talk Show is quite an enjoyable disc, but it contains nothing as indomitable as “Interstate Love Song” or as goofy/ catchy as the borrowed “crash crash crash” refrain of “Big Bang Baby.” The currently clean Weiland’s solo debut is due next year; his bandmatesthere’s been no official announcement of an STP breakupmay be eager to get back together with him, given the lukewarm commercial welcome received by Talk Show.
A reunion would make good sense, and not just for business reasons. True, Weiland was far from the only talent in the group, as these tracks make clear, but Talk Show rarely escapes the shadow of the old temple; most telling of its reminders is the bridge of “So Long,” which mimics “Interstate”‘s spaghetti-Western opening.
Worse, Coutts is a little too earnest for the trashy mood at the heart of the album; Marc Bolan might have gotten away with the pro-tree insistence (in “Peeling an Orange”) that “if I gotta live here, I gotta breathe,” but the new arrival is hardly silly enough to strike the note such pop earnestness requires. Bubblegum fantasy like “Hello Hello” and bubblegum incoherence like “Ring Twice,” both with words written or co-written by drummer Eric Kretz, are closer to the point, or the pointlessness. “Broken beauty wearing superglue”? Right on, dudes.CP