Beneath the Country Underdog


Several years ago, a friend of mine (now a country gospel singer) who I was trying to turn on to X (the band, not the drug) said sorry, they weren't the perfect marriage of country and punk I so wanted them to be. The same could be said a shitload more times of Leeds, England's Mekons. They made consistently disappointing records, too smartly and skillfully woven Social Realist tapestries that fell apart in your hands, unraveled by their fundamentally political intent. One cannot imagine the Mekons being happy to hear that a Republican fell in love with one of their songs, and even the best ones (on 1989's Mekons Rock 'N' Roll) finally make you want to put them on the same shrill boat to China with Billy Bragg. In the '90s, half the band moved to Chicago, and their North End-based journey into the country of Country is one of the quirkiest developments of punk's middle age, a beautiful gesture that should have had a better payoff.

Since then, the twangy Mekons' side-projects have come by the truckload. Here, vocalist Kelly Hogan lays it on less thickly than Mekon Sally Timms, but you can still tell she's British. John Wesley Harding and Robbie Fulks sit in, and the arrangements are capable, but this blend of covers and originals still passes like Olestra. They ambitiously try out what may have been the best song of 1999, the Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was a Rodeo." Not a good idea! Stephen Merritt's affectless original is heartbreakingly world-weary -- I've seen the surprise ending bring a crowd to the verge of tears. Here, an attempt at a similar take just sounds flat. The too-generous folks at No Depression will jizz all over this, but they can have it. The 99-cent CD bin is full of stuff by artists who spend their retirement paying tribute to someone else's tradition. GRANT COGSWELL


Machina: The Machines of God


NO STARSI do not like Smashing Pumpkins. Smashing Pumpkins probably do not like me, either. I think they're smug, supercilious, pompous, priggish. Their new album, Machina: The Machines of God, stinks of self-regarding portentousness and naive schoolyard symbolism. Songs like "The Everlasting Gaze" would've been rejected by even Pearl Jam as being too cock rock, and its lyrics are all sub-Marilyn Manson schlock horror. I do not like the way Billy Corgan sings like his ass has been sharpening pencils, his whiny look-at-me style of falsetto flatulence. I do not like his band's music: their faux-techno drum patterns and anonymous, bad metal riffs. I do not like the sleeve to this album: It reminds me of the religious imagery of bad popsters Sixpence None the Richer. I feel that Smashing Pumpkins are a massive pose, a boring, petty lie, one that far too many children enjoy. I do not understand how anyone over the age of five can enjoy this shit. I hate songs with titles like "The Crying Tree of Mercury." I do not even have to hear them to know that... but I listened anyway.

Smashing Pumpkins probably think I'm disrespectful. I am not a lapsed Catholic, nor do I have any pretensions to be one. I do not like wallowing in my own guilt and sorrow. I especially do not like multi-millionaires who behave that way. (You listening Vedder?) I hate the fact that all 74 minutes of this album are an anonymous wash of sound: no dynamics, no direction, just fuzzy, early-'80s, bad gothic abrasions. I despise "I of the Mourning" and "Try Try Try" (Corgan's vocals are particularly heinous there). I think all 9.56 minutes of the churning, needless "Glass and the Ghost Children" is 9.56 minutes too long. I've always hated '70s prog rockers and disposable pop stars who believe that because millions of people are dumb enough to buy their turgid self-wallowings, their art possesses some worth. Haven't you heard of the Law of the Lowest Common Denominator?

I despise pomposity above almost everything. Even when it's hilarious. Smashing Pumpkins aren't hilarious -- they're a sick, squalid little joke.

And they probably wouldn't like me much, either. EVERETT TRUE

In Stores March 21

BRAVE COMBO, The Process (Rounder) Another from the band that killed Tiny Tim.

CARTOON BOYFRIEND, Nipples (Drool Records) DUH Duh (Duh).

FISHBONE & THE FAMILYHOOD NEXTPERIENCE, Presents: The Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx (Hollywood) I can't.

THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT, Spend the Night in the Box (Time Bomb) Does no one in this world know when to stop?

THE POPES, Holloway Boulevard (Snapper) Yes, Shane McGowan guests.

QUICKSPACE, The Death of Quickspace (Matador)

WEEN, White Pepper (Elektra) See Reverend Horton Heat.

PATTI SMITH, Gung Ho (Arista) This latest informative disc from human rights champion Patti Smith features songs inspired by nuns: Mother Teresa and Phunt Sok Nyidron, the longest-serving political prisoner in Tibet.

CAT POWER, The Covers Record (Matador) Well, since Chan Marshall has already built a franchise on being totally fucking nuts but redeemingly cute, we shouldn't be at all surprised that she's taken fine songs like "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" (oh geez, no one's ever covered that song before!) and slowed them down until they're unrecognizably dull. It's bad enough that there are only two Cat Power songs -- the slow song and the quiet song -- but to turn the voices in her head loose on the legacy of Nina Simone and Moby Grape is really the last straw.