City Paper is not for tourists
The hometown heroes in Jawbox follow up their stellar 1994 release, For Your Own Special Sweetheart, with a complete change of scenery on their latest, self-titled effort. Recorded in Hoboken, N.J., with John Agnello, the new album is slickly and cohesively prepared. The quartet appears to be attempting to cater to the “modern rock” market; its frenetic, percussive rock has been pared down, resulting in a haphazard blend of pop hooks and brief glimpses of the band’s former glory. The glossy production has sanded away many of the rough edges that made the band’s energetic ventures into anthemic noise-rock so appealing. Sometimes the guitars will break into familiar brilliance, exemplified on “Chinese Fork Tie,” a frantic excursion into blissful distortion. The vitriolic angst of “Spoiler” is appropriately provoking, and the clever dynamic changes of “Desert Sea” add an ebb-and-flow quality to a balladlike song structure. The newfound vibrato in J. Robbins’ vocals, however, distracts the listener from the strong instrumental core of many of the songs. A hidden track at the end of the disc jokingly reveals a surprise cover of Tori Amos’ “Cornflake Girl,” further mystifying old-school advocates of the band. Jawbox is smoothly tailored to slip the band into the mainstream, but at what cost? No doubt the band will gain many new fans with this radio-friendly release, but it may be hard pressed to retain the allegiance of old ones.