Traditional? Metal? Alternative? Rock, as these new releases show, covers a broad spectrum.
MIKE WATT; "Ball Hog or Tugboat?" (Columbia). * * 1/2
With guest vocalists Frank Black, Henry Rollins, Eddie Vedder (listed as Edward here) and Dave Pirner; guest drummers such as Dave Grohl, J Mascis and Adam Horovitz; guitarists J Mascis, John Strohm and Nels Cline and guest bassist Flea, one might think this would be an album that kicks.
Though former Minutemen and fIREHOSE member Mike Watt's "Ball Hog or Tugboat?" has some moments, it doesn't live up to expectations.
The album's filled with blues-meets-punk ditties, with a couple of urban funk and jazz pieces thrown in for good measure. That's quite a variety, and the first run-through is interesting. Watt's bass and Leonard Cohen-like drawl carry songs such as "Coincidence Is Either Hit or Miss" and "Forever - One Reporter's Opinion."
Still, his guests are the main draw. Vedder chants out the single "Against the '70s," and Black lazily mouths "Chinese Firedrill." But the distinct and recognizable voices nearly take away from the instrumentation and arrangements. In fact, the music almost becomes a distraction and gets in the way. For example, when Vedder sings, listeners will expect the sharp sound of Pearl Jam.
But this doesn't mean the album's a flop. J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr slides out slacker-quality guitars and straight-forward drum lines.
The cut to hear is "Sexual Military Dynamics." The Texas blues of Chris Duarte and Stevie Ray Vaughn literally meet Black Flag and Rollins Band's punk mighty-man Henry Rollins.
Watt seems to have had a concept of what he wanted when making this album. And it's not bad, but he could have used a little guidance.
WHITE ZOMBIE; "Astro Creep: 2000 (Songs of Love, Destruction and other Synthetic Delusions of the Electric Head)" (Geffen). * * 1/2
White Zombie, the industrial metal band that hit the charts with its major label debut in 1992, walks again with a slightly altered sound.
Still, Sean Yseult's heavy bass lines, J's (Jay Yuenger) cutting guitars remain and Rob Zombie's throaty growls still retain an element of pop.
While some hard-core moshers probably won't hear the subtle difference, metal lovers will. Whether that will make a difference is yet to be scene.
"Astro Creep" blasts off with the driving beat of "Electric Head: Pt. 1 the Agony" and ends with the giant step-time of "Blood, Milk and Sky." Everything in between is definitely White Zombie.
A staple in the White Zombie collection, intricate sound samples from movies and television infiltrate the album while the music rises to an exaggerated behemoth, leaning toward horror schlock.
Chaos, disorder and death come alive in uninhibited imagery in cuts such as "Grease Paint and Monkey Brains," "I Zombie" and the album's hedonistic techno-single, "More Human than Human."
Be forewarned. The album leans toward the slasher movie mentality and is not for everyone.
THE PSYCLONE RANGERS; "The Devil May Care" (World Domination). * * 1/2
Psyclone Rangers of Allentown, Penn., craftily mix punk with blues and psychedelia to create an interesting, straight-forward sound.
While most of the songs here lean definitely to the sound of, say, the U.K. Subs, there are also a few nods to Lou Reed and the Sex Pistols.
"Deal" opens the album and sounds a lot like the Misfits' "Static Age" - without, of course, the screaming baritone of Glenn Danzig - and "Ain't Goin' Down" brings images of U.K. Subs' "Down on the Farm."
All the other cuts, such as "I'm Straight," "Firenze" and "Nazi Mother," a song that flashes images of Iggy and the Stooges, lie deep within the punk vein. This is definitely a punk album based on the real punk attitude of the late '70s - none of that neo-punk stuff coming from groups like Green Day and Offspring.
MOTHER HIPS; "Back to the Grotto" (American). * * 1/2
Dumping traditional time signatures into File 13 and eluding a pidgeon-holed style, this quartet from Chico, Calif., has tapped into the darker side of musical exploration.
While the arrangements lie between the rambling psychedelic jams of the Grateful Dead and the seductive blues of, say, the Black Crowes, the double-speak, sexually obsessed lyrics drop unexpected bombs at every chance.
Though the music sounds nice, it lacks something the Dead and Crowes possess - pizazz.
The lazy romp of "My Emilie" breaks into a steady interlude that sits heavily in the Cranberries' "Dreams" vein. Some who hear "My Emilie" may accuse Mother Hips of stealing the lick, but the truth is, "Back to the Grotto" was recorded and distributed on an independent label back in 1992 - a year before the Cranberries came out with "Dreams" and the album "Everybody Else Is Doing It so Why Can't We?"
But "Back to the Grotto" does have aspiring moments.
"Run Around Me," with its jumpy bubble-grunge sound and rapid verses, is a perky, single-material piece, complete with a catchy, sing-a-long verse. Then there's the haunting sitar-infiltrated "Chum," which occasionally hops into a bouncy chorus.
Probably the most surprising tune on the album is "Two Young Queens." This piece, introduced by a bluegrass banjo, verges on the Doors' "Runnin' Blue" sound and features laid-back vocal harmonies and a heavy, distorted-guitar interlude that eventually leads to a soul-inspired finale.
Mother Hips expends a lot of effort creating new sounds, but when it comes time to make a followup album, will the band sound fresh or will it be a style-mixing rehash like the concept apparently behind this debut?
While "Back to the Grotto" makes tries to go beyond the sounds that have taken hold of the charts, the effort slips a little.
SEED; "Ling" (Giant Records). * * *
Campy. Seed puts out an album called "Ling." "Seedling." Get it? You should. It's good.
This four-man band's sound is alternative and catchy. Almost like Material Issue, but more on the pop side. Gabrel Ordinez's vocals are backed by his pleasantly distorted guitars and moveable beat. Hum-easy melodies and surprisingly clean harmonies also can be found here.
Songs like the MTV hit "Rapture (Stay with Me)," "Doe" and "You Should Not Take These Things for Granted" keep the sound just right - not too grungy and not too poppy.
Seed also gives credit to one of its influences. "Fortune" makes a subtle nod to Led Zeppelin. The song's "Kashmir"-ish, Eastern hymn-like refrain relays the psychedelia and driving rhythms that seminal English band is famous for.
"Ling" is a fresh sound in an almost saturated market of new bands.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.