Eric Saeger’s Random Reviews and Artless Critiques

Sparks, Hello Young Lovers (In The Red Records)

Let’s face it: if anyone could use a good mocking right now, it’s Trans-Siberian Orchestra. For that matter, so could everyone from the marketers of the Ford Fusion to the good pushers at Budweiser for the high crime of glamorizing, mystifying and mass-marketing college-age love as if it were the apogee of human experience. Enter the fossilized Sparks guys (yes, the same Sparks that contributed "Armies of the Night" to the scene in Fright Night where Charlie and Amy flee into the disco) reporting for duty as God’s seltzer-bottle firing squad. The Figaro-metal of "Hello Young Lovers" is 3 Stooges satire in Bohemian Rhapsody clothing, endless operatic stanzas sung in a sad-clown deadpan for the dunce-capped romantic in everyone: "The very next fight I have with you will end up the same, some idiot staring at your legs… you tell me to let it go, but how can I let it go?" Distinct snickering sounds coming from the baby grand can be heard if this is played backwards on a Wednesday.

Sepultura, Dante XXI (SPV USA Records)

SPV forges ahead with its practice of ghouling up the remains of bands you’d thought you’d forgotten, hooking them up to spaghetti messes of IVs and kicking back to watch the schooling. In the past year or two their roster has seen Eric Burdon, Motorhead, Skinny Puppy, and now Brazilian thrash-crackers Sepultura, who were jaws-of-lifed from the wreckage of their Roadrunner contract, rushed to SPV Mercy Hospital and given a chance to see what they had left. Sepultura’s output has improved geometrically since, despite the absence of singer Max Cavalera, and Dante XXI finds them still stubbornly refusing to drink the math-core Kool Aid, relying instead on all-pro death-metal velocity, Nuclear Assault riffing and rhino adrenaline. The band races through this fusillade as if they’d been dying to tell you about it, Derrick Green’s canine roar hopped on 28 Days Later gel-caps and Andreas Kisser’s perpetual-crescendo thrash guitars. Laugh and point as even grandma and Fido throw on their motheaten "Death to False Metal" tee shirts.

Devo 2.0, Devo 2.0 (Walt Disney Records)

God help us, even the Mothersbaugh spuds have been assimilated. In this Disney-concocted black op, original Devo songs have been McDonaldized into nothing more than music to trash Toys R Us to, sung by sugar-bender clean-kiddies chosen for their docility, Wite-Out teeth and ability to withstand the Joan Crawford "encouragement" of their stage mommies. This was indeed sanctioned by the original Devo in a whirlwind of careless corporate greed that figured future class action suits from parents won’t make a dent in a profit margin reaped by sucking all the irony out of the material and turning things like "Freedom of Choice" into nonsense nursery rhymes for responsibly mindless consumerbots yet to be. Put down that $5 espresso and grok for a second the insidiousness of putting Brahms and Mozart even further out of the reach of a Generation Zzz that’s been given nothing more than Playstations to help them kludge their way through a world of nightmare flashbacks wherein Nixon, Roe/Wade and the Scopes trial are covered by Pravda. Not to wax too hippyish, but fight the power already, somebody.

Backlash, Heliotrope (Wtii Records)

As Depeche Mode archaeologists go, Backlash prove themselves capable of faithfully maintaining the original aesthetic and retrofitting it with sufficient futurepop advancements to front a viable mainstream assault. A surprising record, this was first made available in 2004 through import scalpers and has just now been forked over to Wtii for wide US release. Would have been nice had these fellows gone with some vocals that weren’t in great need of a 12-step David Gahan program, and their bread and butter song "Lodestar" (on which their last EP fixated, to the tune of four lackluster remixes) takes a few listens to stick, but stick it does, and it turns out the band had even better stuff up their sleeves, such as the album’s eponymous track (a droid-love-fest that would make both Steve Winwood and Teardrop Explodes feel no small amount of parental pride) and "Purity For a Sinner" (a kindly electro-bubble number colored in Enya shades at the intro).

Moonstarr, Moonstarr Remixes (Groove Attack Records)

With the relentless advance of Myspace, the whole squeezing-every-ounce-out-of-one’s-laptop thing seems to have a growing appeal to punters with rudimentary grasps of rhythm. Automatically that means it’s not always advisable. Here we have a mostly instrumental effort consisting of breakbeats with soul, breakbeats with rasta riddims, breakbeats with chill, and breakbeats with sausage and anchovies. There’s a chance that if the first song’s breakbeats didn’t sound so unprofessionally mashed (perhaps to proclaim its trendiness, and if so this guy can take a cannonball leap off the Space Needle) it’d be taken more seriously, and “BreathInn” (sic) does feature a sweet Gabrielle-like vocal effort from Ivana Santilli. Those are highlights, though; the rest is a Frankensteination of vocoder-blipping chick-cheeps (“Recloose”), low-rent Air-inspired subroutines (“Dancetrack”), and things like conga-line tourist-techno that would work as montage furniture for know-nothing ego-fests like Oceans 12 (“Incoming”).

Racquel Requena, Fresco (Errrizo Productions)

Connecticut-based Requena’s boardroom-slick Gloria Estefan soprano is well worth the princely studio values that Sony-ize this collection of salsa-pop; it’s dentist-office Enrique Iglesias for men who swoon. Three songs are her own creations, treated like the others to fine arranging by an assortment of clever deck-hands. All the songs save for one are sung in Spanish – the Marvin Hamlisch standard “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” gets dragged through Requena’s sunny barrio without getting at all overdone.

Daylight Dies, Dismantling Devotion (Candlelight Records)

Desolate goth-doom dirges of the Type O kind. The album begins with a thoughtfully baroque-ish bit of acoustic guitar to tee up “Dead Air,” a heavy ditty remindful of Candlemass, switching to Thursday-emo at the choruses, a demonstration for posterity that they aren’t solely reliant on common graveyard-rock fauna. “A Dream Resigned” mixes Metallica and Queensryche under black-metal wheeze-snarling, assumedly to torpedo any shot at having the CD spun at Tupperware parties.

Angelo LaTona, Unveiled (Breaking Records)

Christian fundie LaTona puts on a guitar clinic not unlike what Joe Satriani did years ago in this self-released showcase, which was most likely concocted to help drum up session gigs. Expressions range from Weather Channel jazz-bubble (“In His Presence”) to marathon Neil Schon nickings (the title track), all solidly listenable and positive-charged.

American Catapult, Trees of Mystery (Further South Recordings)

Hickish alt-rock smacking of Old 97s in a Stones mood; as such it’s a mixed bag as far as hooks, whether or not originality is a constant. The bass is positively buried in the mix, which favors (and rightly so, if not to such extremes) Tom Townsend’s Van Morrison/Tom Petty tenor. “This Time” would achieve greatness with a different title, but Townsend parrots Michael Hutchence’s drawl in the INXS tune of the same name, leaving it little more than a drive-by gawk; “Crooked Straight”’s unplugged mollycoddling is a “Wild Horses” in desperate search of a sweet spot.

Shakra, Fall (Candlelight Records)

Billy Squier-like nasality over spandex metal. It’s brave and sweet that all hands have closed their minds to the music of the past 20 years, and if their filler didn’t so obviously plagiarize pre-computer-age toxic waste like Whitesnake’s “Still of the Night” (“Take Me Now”) we’d be able to praise the Burgess Meredith character in their lives who prodded them to “Make that record, boys, and give em all ya got,” but the fashion models are assuredly holding their breath for the next attempt.

Flipron Fancy Blues and Rustique Novelties (Tiny Dog Records)

Released in 2004, this one’s a campy, theatrical pot of alt-noir French café wallpaper and off-Broadway Rocky Horror enunciated in the Cribs-like accent of common English swine. There’s a Dresden Dolls influence at work, which could have gone without saying given the copycat environs of today’s major-label-lottery alt scene, but there are sufficient other signs of life – dingy piano, baseball-park Hammond and accordion layers combine with Wheatus guitars and Yellow Submarine tomfoolery to drum up in-your-face Cirque de Dementia odes to drinking and how badly they detest their motherland.

Steven Mark, Aloneophobe (Basset Records)

AAA-league neo-70s guitar rock starring the definitively adequate vocals of the singer songwriter. Leadoff number “Window in the Dark” steals the chilly thunder of BOC’s “Don’t Fear the Reaper” but fails to pay off with a palatable chorus section, which is the running weakness throughout. “Lazy Sunday Afternoon” is Lucy in the Sky sans diamonds, while “Weak” spoons Mark’s best Davy Jones karaoke over a tattered Death Cab tapestry that could have constituted relevance if the creamy center hadn’t already been used by every first-timer since Moses.

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome. Email

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