BACK WHEN WE WERE SURE that rock was breathing its last gasp, we oversimplifying journalist-types deemed big beat "the new rock." Ridiculous as it sounded, it wasn't far off the mark. Wildly successful crossover acts such as Fat Boy Slim and the Chemical Brothers proved that all-electronic, bombastic big beat was perfectly suited for its new role atop the pop music pile.

Then rock itself became a contender again. Liking Black Sabbath became a badge of honor, SPIN magazine published their Axl Rose issue, and our own Murder City Devils started generating quite the buzz. Next thing you know, what began as an irony-based trend had become a bona fide resurgence.

And now here's big beat major player, Death in Vegas, out with a rock album. It all seems a little too convenient that Mr. Big Beat has changed his tune, doesn't it? Before you go condemning poor Richard Fearless (who is to Death in Vegas as Billy Corgan is to Smashing Pumpkins), take a look at the goods. The accusation slides off Death in Vegas when you realize that The Contino Sessions is a fucking good album.

Fearless hasn't forsaken his knob-twiddling roots in favor of an organic approach to music-making, but Contino does represent a drastic departure from 1997's Dead Elvis. Guitars have swooped in to upstage the blips and bleeps, while Iggy Pop, Primal Scream, and Jesus and Mary Chain cameos have taken the place of cute samples. D in V's rock transformation is so complete, if you listened to this album blindfolded, you'd swear it was the follow-up to the My Bloody Valentine classic, Loveless. Like that magnum opus, Contino ain't the Rolling Stones. It is, however, a near-perfect marriage of directorial visions: Fearless is the only one unafraid of embracing a techno-production sensibility in the context of a rock album.

But let's not be hasty. This album is such a departure from his previous work, Fearless will probably put out a polka album next -- just to throw us off again.