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A.R.E. Weapons
A.R.E. Weapons
Rough Trade

If, as the adage goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, is explicit homage an equally slobbering, back-alley blowjob? Ask New York's aggro-electro outfit A.R.E. Weapons, self-appointed heir of Lower East Side sleaze. And considering the group's deranged art-school antics, if you ask right, you might get a demonstration, not just an answer.

From the same conceptual gallery spaces as Fischerspooner and Andrew W.K., A.R.E. Weapons puts on meticulously disheveled displays that draw from spastic hip-hop, soiled synth-pop and dusted dancehall; but it's more reinterpretation than reinvention. It's the aural equivalent of ripped rock T-shirts as haute couture, taken to the next distressed-leather level. To a tinny, pecking drumbeat, bludgeoning guitars and serrated keyboards, A.R.E. Weapons makes like a Bowery Beastie Boys, careening through static with switchblades drawn. Too bad their tongues aren't as sharp.

A.R.E. Weapons cops a lot of feels. "Fuck You Pay Me" nicks lyrical elements from Lou Reed's "Walk on The Wild Side." Despite several years of No Wave/L.E.S. NYC appreciation, never before has there existed such a bald-faced tribute to Suicide as "Street Gang," which interpolates Alan Vega's beatnik bob. As well, Jim Carroll's jitters get nods. Oh, and "Hey World" would have made a good INXS number.

But A.R.E. Weapons isn't eulogizing or commiserating, it's romanticized hyper-realism. This isn't hustle as hassle, but rather manifesto. It registers as hypnotic, but just doesn't resonate as honest. Violent and visceral, sure, but A.R.E. Weapons manage to blow their load fairly quickly.

-- Tony Ware

Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note
Blue Note

Shades of Blue is the most ambitious jazz/hip-hop hybrid ever made. Blue Note, the fabled jazz label, gave an upstart called Madlib the keys to its vaults. No gold-grilled thug from the projects, Madlib is Otis Jackson Jr., son of soul singer Otis Jackson, nephew of jazz trumpet great John Faddis. He's one of hip-hop's visionary producers and MCs. He plays a variety of instruments in the guise of Yesterday's New Quintet. Madlib didn't just settle for a remix record. He chopped up, deconstructed, reconceptualized and added beats to music by the likes of Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Donald Byrd, Gene Harris, Ronnie Foster, Andrew Hill and others. In some cases, he simply recut his own version of a tune as Yesterday's New Quintet. In other cases he added musicians or rappers. Folks obsessed with methodology and album credits will find Shades of Blue confusing and frustrating. It took me awhile, but I found the best way to approach the disc is this: It's a beast like no other; don't get so caught up in analysis that you miss the music. Don't wrestle with questions like, "Why would this cat, with access to the multi-track masters of the entire Blue Note catalogue, even think about performing and overdubbing his own versions?" (These re-recordings, by the way, are the weakest parts of the CD.) Best to just let the music stand on its own, let it flow. Some of it's great, some of it's merely good and a bit of it is tedious. About what you'd expect from a project that sets the bar so high.

--Eric Snider

St. Anger

Metallica jettisoned most of what made them an astounding pop-cultural force about halfway through their eponymous 1991 commercial breakthrough -- the "black album" -- and did away with everything else that made them even remotely interesting or laudable for its follow-up, the incredibly aptly-named Load. I honestly believe that I say this not out of a former fan's mass-acceptance sour grapes, but rather because when Metallica made one of the most blatantly compromising bids for wider popularity in the history of rock & roll, what they traded for (even greater) stardom was everything they were.

Now, we find the most successful metal band since Zeppelin revisiting its thrashy origins and providing one hell of a persuasive argument for the validity of that old adage about how you can't go home again. St. Anger is a pretty awful album, and though it's musically far more metallic and frenetic than the band's 90s releases, it's bad because of them, or at least because of the concessions to accessibility that went into them.

The jagged riffs in the intros to tunes like "Frantic," "Some Kind of Monster" and "Invisible Kid" may recall the Metallica of yore (albeit in a "cool," White Zombie/groovecore-informed sort of way), but these guys have written too many tunes like "The Memory Remains" to ever capably kick out something comparable to "Damage, Inc."

Some of these songs initially show a lot of promise, despite self-indulgent production issues, only to get slaughtered by both James Hetfield's lyrics and insistence that his vocal ability transcends more than one dimension.

It seems the whiplash cadence, malevolent fiction and sociopolitical rhetoric of his early style is on permanent hiatus. Even St. Anger's most rabid rhythms are subjected to pointlessly repetitive experiments in wordplay ("Frantic," "Dirty Window," "My World"); stylized, overwrought near-melody (for a particularly crass example, check the breakdown in "Invisible Kid"); and vastly oversimplified introspection (pick a song, any song).

Ostensibly, St. Anger was supposed to be a sign of rejuvenation, a damn-the-torpedoes expression of new motivation and solidarity following the lineup shifts, trips to rehab and so forth.

Some of the music supports that supposition. Most of the disc, however, just serves as a reminder that Metallica used to shred any and all cliched metal preconceptions, only to later embrace them so heartily that when it came time to get lean and mean again, they couldn't.

--Scott Harrell

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