With Honors

Various Artists

Maverick Records

Welcome to the Mellow Acoustic 101. Known collectively as the {With Honors} soundtrack, no less than half the album grasps the unplugged medium.

Duran Duran's acoustic nod on "Thank You" is an awkward, fumbled attempt to cover the tune by original authors Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. And to think the Duran Duran's next album features nothing but covers of other artists including Public Enemy? This is {not} a good sign.

Madonna's too successful and overplayed single "I'll Remember" features a catchy chorus piping along a very mechanical keyboard arrangement. As far as Madonna songs go, this one's no classic, but that's not going to stop it from blasting it to the top of the nation's pop charts.

Candlebox's "Cover Me" slides on an acoustic harmony pushed to the edge with a rocking chorus and Kristin Hersh joined by Michael Stipe puts on a repetitive yet effective "Your Ghost," a ballad with mellow vocals dominated by slow tempo acoustic guitar.

The Pretenders' "Forever Young" is not the Rod Stewart sell out jam, rather the Bob Dylan penned folk icon. Chrissie Hynde's wispy voice glides over the finely tuned orchestration of one of today's most overlooked bands.

"Run Shithead Run." How can one pass up on this Mudhoney jam with a title like that? Combining the classic ballpark organ sound with a slippery beat and peppy guitar riffs, the song helps to break the album's melancholic mediocrity.

Additional meager appearances by The Cult rocker, "She Sells Sanctuary," Belly's hand clap stomp of "It's Not Unusual," Fleetwood Mac pioneer's Lindsay Buckingham's musically trite "On the Wrong Side" and Babble's "Tribe," a simpleton dance-dependant vibe were amond the group which found the most frequent use of the "skip" button on this reviewer's CD player. Say what you will, but these songs help the soundtrack like continuity speedbumps to the Indy 500.

Then there's Lyle trying on Irving Berlin...ouch! Somewhere between Harry Connick Jr. and Eddie Rabbit, Mr. Lovett falls flat on this track. The orchestration and sax solo are fine, if only Lovett wouldn't bother to "sing" so often.

A casual listen to {With Honors} finds plenty of good music with a good display on how to property handle a cover song (The Pretenders) and how not to (Duran Duran).

Unfortunately even the album's respectable music is tempered by the other weaker tracks. Like a student expecting an "A" for a semester riddled with a few failing grades, {With Honors} is by no means the Phi Beta Kappa of today's better music soundtracks. - {Rob M. Goozeé}

Inch

Stresser

Seed Records

Oh, San Diego, I love you. No place ─ no, not even that town up northwest ─ gives us more good bands per square mile.

Inch hasn't yet garnered as much notice as neighbors Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu, but {Stresser} should take care of that.

Drawing from defunct San Diego bands like Forced Down, Sub Society and Helicopter, Inch follow the San Diego style of driving bass and drums with melodic guitar and vocals. It usually works.

Vocalist Stimy can do both the melodic singing and the aggressive stuff. The aggression has a bit more life to it, both both styles work well. The best tracks ─ "Kermit the Hostage," "INo. 84 vs. SL/A," "I'm the Cat" ─ combine both.

There's a few bugs in the system ─ weaker tracks like "Stresser" and "Root Canal/Manitoba" tend to meander all about and take away from the overall effect. But hopefully, Inch will have many chances to polish their act. {-Greg D'Avis}

Various Artists

Dark Empire Strikes Back: A Cleveland Compilation

Dark Empire

Maybe it's something in the water ─ or maybe it's just the frustration of rooting for the Indians year after year ─ but judging by the bands represented on {Dark Empire Strikes Back}, people in Cleveland are seriously {pissed}.

Most of the 22 songs here are in the metal/hardcore vein, ranging from the good (Integrity) to the mediocre (Splinter) to the laughable (Bowel). The one thing they have in common is that none of these people are very happy about anything.

There are some deviations from the norm. Ringworm ─ who normally sound similar to most of the rest of the bands onn

this comp ─ do tongue-in-cheek covers of the Circle Jerks' "I Just Want Some Skank" and "Beverly Hills".

And among the heavier stuff, there's plenty of good ─ the aforementioned Integrity contribute two songs, Outface's "Bullet" is head and shoulders above any of their previous releases, and Asphalt, Blood Of Christ and Pale Creation all have good tracks as well.

With 22 songs, {Dark Empire Strikes Back} starts to get a bit repetitive ─ but there's enough good stuff here to make it worth a listen.

It's just too bad most of the lyrics aren't included. How will we ever know what songs like "Barbicution" or "Sometimes He Likes to be the Wife" are about? {-Greg D'Avis}

Girls Against Boys

Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby

Touch and Go Records

Despite a lineup composed of 3/4 of Soulside and Inner Ear soundman Eli Janney, Girls Against Boys avoids the fabled "D.C. Sound."

Too bad.

{Venus Luxure No. 1 Baby} is a self-indulgent, murky mess. Girls Against Boys tries to be "artistic" and "innovative," but the end result brings to mind adjectives like "boring" and "bad."

Averaging about 4 1/2 minutes, the songs are far, far too long. Punk songs generally don't work at lengths of over three minutes because they can't maintain any sort of interest that long.

Actually, the songs here avoid that pitfall because they don't even start out interesting ─ just slow and plodding.

Sure, the band is to be commended for taking a path other than the tried-and-true D.C. formula. They just should have tried something else. {-Greg D'Avis}

Sleep

Sleep's Holy Mountain

Earache

Hint number one for aspiring musicians ─ if your band has a name like "Sleep," the music better be pretty damn interesting or reviewers will have a field day.

Sadly, the members of Sleep lacked the foresight to reconsider their name. And yes, {Sleep's Holy Mountain} is dull, dull, dull.

Haven't heard early Black Sabbath (back when they were good) before? Then maybe, just maybe, you'll find Sleep original. Otherwise, you'll get a crash course in musical plagiarism.

Sleep's press release repeatedly touts the joys of marijuana, and their overindulgence in green, leafy substances shows through in the lyrics. "Ride the dragon toward the crimson eye/Flap the wings under Mars' red sky/The reptile pushes itself out into space/Leaving behind the human race." Remember Rush circa 1976, with their dumbo fantasy/science fiction lyrics?

Duh. Lay off the pipe, fellows. {-Greg D'Avis}

Eugenius

Mary Queen Of Scots

Atlantic Records

"Eugenius" derive their name from their vocalist and guitarist, Eugene Kelly, and that's only the first indication that these shmoes are overdue for a savage beating.

Genius? No. Eugenius fit squarely into the "Gee isn't U2 cool and not a bit pretentious" school of "alternative" music, down to their wanna-be poetic lyrics.

Perhaps a law should be put into effect ─ {anyone} who finds it necessary to spew forth this sort of pompous garbage will be held by the ankles from the Student Union clock tower, until the person holding them decides to let go.

Sure, bands like this have a purpose ─ as the targets of childish ridicule from bored music reviewers ─ but that wears thin quick.

It's time everyone learns: hip haircuts and black clothes do not a decent band make. Look into other fields of work, Eugene baby. {-Greg D'Avis}

Hole

Live Through This

Geffen Records

If Courtney Love can get through the next few months of media scrutiny, she will find herself on the brighter side of music stardom. It doesn't take media soothsayer to recognize Hole's new album, {Live Through This} is {the} early buzz among music critics this year.

Carrying the burden of a "breakthrough" album for the band, Hole's new and ironically-titled album runs amok amidst Love's improved, vibrant and violent vocals. The continuing, strong musicianship of guitarist Eric Erlandson, bass player Kristen Plaff and drummer Patty Schemel, reflects the band's maturation from its chaotic days as a shadowy LA band.

Relocating to Seattle to become part of the region's burgeoning music scene, Hole's first complete album {Pretty On The Inside} was hailed for its aggressive style. {Live Through This} finds the band's adoption of a slightly more pop approach without comprimising the group's explosive nature.

The angst-charged "Violet" spirals around Love's rantings, but is counter-balanced by the pop-slam melody of "Miss World." Misleading ballads like "Softer, Softest" evolve from shy quietness before exploding Nirvana-style into angry rocking anthems.

The air-raid chant introduction to "Credit In The Straight World" fades to a rocking, hyper guitar beat and shades of Ministry's {Psalm 69} gothic industrial rock in "She Walks On Me," complete with distorted vocals and speed-metal drum tempo.

A track with a distinct pop-appeal, "Asking For It" sparks with lyrical jabs and a gutteral bass riff. Though various tracks purge the title of "cross-over pop," Hole sticks to its guns─irate vocals and pissed-off guitars.

The eerie harmonic ballad, "I Think That I Would Die," captures the album's best combination of Love's vocals with stealthy instrumentation. One moment, the song's ebbs to the innocent pop sound before sheding it's guise as a Hell-bent rocker.

The unbridled vocal approach on {Live Through This} goes all out in its 12 tracks, pushing the group's angst-ridden music to crossover pop extremes. {- Rob M. Goozeé} Read Next Article