Concrete Blonde - Group Therapy Concrete Blonde
Group Therapy

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, the avant trio Concrete Blonde broke through on college radio with hits like "Still in Hollywood" and "True," and then on commercial radio with "God Is a Bullet" and "Joey."

The band split in 1994 when singer Johnette Napolitano went on to record one-offs with Vowel Movement and Pretty & Twisted. Eight years have passed since the release of the last proper Concrete Blonde disc, Mexican Moon, but now the three original members have reformed to offer Group Therapy.

The disc fails to recapture all of the punky, fiery immediacy of the group at its prime, but still delivers the blackly beautiful lyrical meanderings of Napolitano atop a moody, jammy rock bed.

Group Therapy opens with the melancholic, nostalgic "Roxy," before snapping into the throbbing, pound of "Violent." Napolitano's Latin influences come out in the trilling guitar strains of "Your Llorona" and her trademark sinister bass grooves drive tracks like "Valentine" and the soul-baring "When I Was a Fool," where she affirms her aging single life: "I fly down the highway sun on my face/I belong to nobody, I belong to no place./I cry over poetry as I laugh at myself/still, I'd rather be me, than anyone else."

"Tonight" offers a langourous, deep bass-driven interlude and "Take Me Home" provides just the right twanginess to be a perfect "last call" bar anthem.

Ultimately, there are no obvious radio hits or unforgettable anthems on Group Therapy — there are no tracks with the power of "Walking in London," "Still in Hollywood" or "The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden," nor is there anything with the plaintive beauty of "True," "Caroline," "…Long Time Ago" or "Joey." Still, the band runs through its traces and proves it can still craft some solid tracks together, which offers the hope of more fully realized Concrete Blonde classics to come.

For more information, check the label's Web site at Catch the band live at The Vic Theatre in Chicago on February 8.


Beautiful Creatures - Beautiful Creatures Beautiful Creatures
Beautiful Creatures
(Warner Bros.)

Imagine the energy and power if Guns 'n' Roses, back in the day of "Paradise City," had merged with the AC/DC of "Back in Black." Toss in a punky attitude based on the glory days of heavy metal and you've got Beautiful Creatures, who pound through a dozen vitriolic tracks on their self titled debut.

The L.A.-based band brings to mind a number of acts from the early '90s L.A. glam-rock scene — from G'N'R to Motley Crue — this is an album of punky, heavy metal power and attitude. This is the kind of rock that made the Whiskey A-Go-Go club on the Sunset Strip famous.

The disc opens with an angry anthem of post-clubbing lonliness in "1 A.M." (which first appeared on the soundtrack to Valentine) and goes on to rap-rock over a strutting riff before offering a glam-rock chorus in "Wasted." With "Ride," the band offers a fast crankin' anthem for anyone cruising the weekend without a date: "I could be with anyone/but I'd rather be alone," growls singer Joe Leste. And in "Kick Out," Leste does his best AC/DC impression atop a tight riff and frequent drum breaks before the band dives into the full-blown tear-it-up chorus.

It's not all about speed; in "Wish," it slows the tempo, though it keep the amps turned up, for a garagey power ballad (complete with retro guitar solo). And in "Time and Time Again" it sticks with a slowly strummed guitar and brings in a taste of piano and strings for an affecting late-night bar ballad, sounding a little like a contemplative Axl Rose or Brett Michaels.

Bottom line: Beautiful Creatures rock fast, hard and true. This is a stiff sonic drink for any fan of fist-shaking heavy metal. Long live rock! naeum.