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CD Reviews: MaxwellSlipknotBjork
by Bill Ribas and Jeanne Fury

Maxwell, Now (Columbia)
The latest from Maxwell, his third (well, not counting the live MTV Unplugged disc), is exactly what the doctor ordered. And that would be Dr. Love, of course. It's up, down, funky, full of soul, and the best thing from the soul section of your record store since Prince was Prince in the '80s. Sure, critics are bound to point out the Prince influence, but you'll hear the Isley Brothers as strongly, and either influence is nothing to turn your nose up at.

The disc opens with "Get To Know Ya," an upbeat number in which airy guitar picking and a horn section take off. Lyrically, Maxwell is sharp too, as he sings, "They be tryin' to bring you flowers/ You prefer your roses blue/ Others was tryin' to get in your trousers/ I was just tryin' to get into you." Ahh, the softer side of Maxwell. "Lifetime" follows, a lazy-paced tune that wafts like a late summer breeze. And if you're not sold on him yet, when "W/As My Girl" pumps out of the speakers, it's time to say, yes please, I'll take it home. Perhaps most interesting is the use of pedal-steel guitar, which fades in and out. Bruce Bouton of Shania Twain's band is responsible for those crying notes.

Pedal steel and R&B? Yep. Heck, Maxwell even uses a banjo and a harp on some songs. But before you scream "what the funk is going on here," hear me now and believe me later: It works. "For Lovers Only" has the banjo, and it's not Scruggs-style "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," but more arpeggios and single-note runs. Again the pedal steel haunts, but with the fretless bass and Maxwell's doubled vocals, it is both a sad and beautiful number.

"Temporary Nite" mixes a Prince sound with mid-'70s funk, as Maxwell questions a relationship, singing, "A temporary night for two/ Don't change a lonely afternoon." He also includes "This Woman's Work," by Kate Bush, a selection found on the live MTV disc, done here in the studio. As he explains, "I did it as a tribute to this little girl who came to a show in Los Angeles as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation in the summer of 1999. Her wish was to meet me and she passed away six months later from cancer. So I re-recorded the song for her."

Overall, the disc is solid and contains some beautiful music, and repeated listening provides a good opportunity to hear the nuances that create such good sounds. The Brooklyn-born artist continues to progress, and if Now is any indication, the future will be graced by a steady stream of soulful music. – B.R.

Related Content: Maxwell in Concert
Related Artists: Erykah Badu, Mary J. Bilge

Slipknot, Iowa (Roadrunner Records)
I had a theory the other night – albeit a somewhat obvious one – that perhaps years of video and computer games, where killing is combined with snippets of rock riffs, is the cause of the current crop of violent music that's been pumping out of record companies like crazy. Just a thought, of course, but if you mesh violence (imagined, or unreal) with the shortened attention spans of the computer era, well, you get the idea. Take the opening lines from Slipknot's "Disasterpiece," for starters: "I wanna slit your throat and fuck the wound/ I wanna push my face in and feel the swoon." Gershwin, it ain't. And it's not even creative, well, maybe for a slasher flick, but even then?

So what's up with these lads from Iowa? I can't say. They wear masks, a kind of Kabuki theater meets Clockwork Orange, refer to themselves by numbers (0-8) instead of names, and produce disjointed songs that feature rapid-fire drumming, guttural-screaming vocals, and idiotic lyrics.

The opening song is titled "People = Shit." As #6 explains, "Besides all of us just being a bunch of spores and living in our pathetic little ecosystems. I as a fellow human am just tired of watching the majority of humans make mistakes. I'm done with it, I've had it. We are what we are. We just waste and we ruin and we corrupt and we destroy. To me, that's just waste, that's shit. Fuck people." Apparently, these nine social commentators are above their own philosophy, although, in a circular argument using their logic, you could equate their music to shit.

There are brief moments where lead singer #8 is not screaming, bits where sonically things sound okay, and your opinion of the group may begin to change, but by the time you like it, it's back to anger and destruction, and we have more of that these days than one could ever want.

There's nothing shabby about the production. It's actually quite good, which would indicate a bunch of money behind the band. But what good is stellar production if the content is so poor? Oh sure, there are hordes of depressed 15 year olds singing the praises of the group, and you can find a slew of message boards with horribly misspelled statements fawning over the band. All I can do is offer advice, and in this case, it'd be that if you're headed to the record store with your $15, pick a James Brown CD instead, or a Ramones, or Charlie Christian, or Stravinsky. Give it to charity if you want, but avoid Iowa. – B.R.

Related Content: Interview with Slipknot, Ozzfest 2001 (including live photos of Slipknot)
Related Bands: Disturbed, Papa Roach, Adema, Deftones, System of a Down

Bjork, Vespertine (Elektra Records)
photo by Matt + Marcus, ©
It's oh so quiet. A leaky faucet. Walking on fresh snow. A pillow collapsing beneath a weary head. Steam. Not exactly the most exciting images, but they're sensual as hell. Vespertine is not the most exciting album, but it's sensual to the point of hypnotic. Bjork is in love, and while you'd expect her to "blow a fuse," instead, she's "nice and quiet." Bjork is somewhat bewildered by love; she wants to coddle it, and keep it warm. To do this, she has layered sonic atmospheres as thick as clouds, and just as delicate. She's always been a fantastic manipulator of noise, stretching and compressing it, and Vespertine is no exception, but don't expect to hear anything resembling "There's More To Life Than This," "I Miss You," or "Bachelorette."

Vespertine won't jar you or ignite a dance party. The vocals contain few soaring majestic cries. Rather, on songs like "Cocoon," "Undo," and "An Echo, A Stain," her voice is vaporous, like she's leaking tiny secrets. Less is more. Ethereal choirs and orchestral arrangements lull and sweep through each track, most notably on "It's Not Up To You," "Aurora," and "Unison." There's often crackling background noise, like on old records, and it adds coziness, like a campfire. The songs are stirring, but covertly so. Bjork employs music boxes on a few tracks, something you may or may not find creepy, depending on how many low-budget slasher movies you saw as a kid (the psycho killer always seemed to be preying on camp kids while a Fischer-Price soundtrack played in the background). Lyrically, she makes less sense than ever, but she's writing from a beautiful place. On "Heirloom," she happily sings, "I swallow little glowing lights/ My mother and son baked for me/ During the night/ They do a trapeze walk/ Until they're in the sky/ Right above my bed." Okay, if you say so. It ain't Hemingway. But pretty nonsense is at least pretty. And these days, that's good enough. – J.F.

Related Artists: Garbage, Beck

September 2001

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