The Murmurs
Blender
(MCA)
    


Talk about a wise gamble. The Murmurs released their second album last year to widespread indifference, after taking a couple years to follow up their alt-rock humorous breakup hit “You Suck.” Part of the reason for the sophomore slump was their own fault — most of their second album’s songs evoked a shrug or the phrase...”you suck.”

This year The Murmurs went back to the drawing board to write some new tracks with a return to the energy level of their first hit, and with a handful of upbeat poppy possible hits in their hands, they got impatient and asked MCA to release the new songs, paired with a few of the best songs from the last album. The result is Blender, an 11-song album which, with its instantly gratifying leadoff track (and current single) “La Di Da,” proves that “You Suck” wasn’t a creative fluke.

“La Di Da” has a big happy sound that simply screams hit single (and it is) and another new track, “Smash” with its pounding drums and retro synthesizer line could prove a radio-friendly followup. “I’m A Mess,” a self-effacing bit of chimey commentary follows close behind.

The waifish dual female harmonies of The Murmurs bring to mind a laidback folky version of The Breeders and Veruca Salt with the youthful glimmer of Natalie Imbruglia and the twang of country for good measure. Probably the biggest fault of The Murmurs’ last album was a concentration on quiet folky songs. Blender makes up for that in spades. All of the above mentioned tracks kick in with drums and guitars set to rock, and “Misfit” opens with the kind of warm layered vocals that remind one of Bananarama.

Thankfully though, “Genius,” a slowly strutting contemplative piece was rescued from the last disc. It gives Blender a thoughtful heart to scatter its “La Di Da”s around. The result is a mixed drink that goes down smooth and satisfying.

 

Emmett Swimming
Big Night Without You
(Epic)
   ½


With a twangy guitar slide and a lightly galloping beat, the opening moments of Emmet Swimming’s latest disc can’t help but remind you of The Wallflowers. But while Big Night Without You sticks in the mid-tempo, jangly rock vein, they quickly distance themselves from any further Wallflowers references. There are bits of Gin Blossoms, Toad The Wet Sprocket and the occasional falsetto that is strongly reminiscient of early ‘90s band Something Happens, but singer-guitarist Todd Watts ultimately creates a distinctive sound all his own.

One of the more refreshing elements of Big Night is Watts’ lyrics, which, instead of revolving around the cliches of new love and lost love move through a gamut of other emotions and societal situations. One of his sharpest tracks skewers the glitter of upper class suburbia with its “beautiful houses” and “surgically altered spouses” concluding “we’ve been stealing from the Joneses only to find/they’re leading their lives blind/divorce and credit cards/you can just taste the caviar.” In the lead-off track “Guru,” he sings of the lost dreams of childhood (I’ll never be a star/I’ll never learn sitar/all those childish dreams/are not meant to be”), “Fist Like A Glove” deals with spouse abuse and “Turnstile” again looks at the veneer of middle class — it’s about a man who goes postal after gaining everything (“if everything’s fine/why do I feel stuck in the turnstile/very nice afternoon and then it’s the job, the wife, the house, the pension check”). In “Tom Collins,” Watts recounts the reacquaintance of old lovers with comic remembrance of high school dating days (“I’d love one more Tom Collins/as the rain outside pours down/I’d always drive by your house/and your Dad would chase me around/we all get so sentimental/when the Gin’s half gone”).

From the subjects of his lyrics, you might get the impression that Big Night Without You is a downer of a disc, but actually, like the easy rockin’ flavor of Wallflowers and Gin Blossoms, the music buoys Watts’ often dark sentiments. Computer users can access a handful of tracks on this CD that either didn’t make the cut for the regular album or that were taken from the band’s other releases (strangely, one of those is the title track, “Big Night Without You” which you can’t access through your stereo!)

 

Collections and Soundtracks:


Why Do Fools Fall in Love: Original Versions from the Movie is out on Rhino and serves as a good ‘50s sockhop soundtrack. Included are Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers singing the title track and a handful of other hits, Little Richard’s “Tutti-Frutti,’ The Mama’s & The Papa’s’ “California Dreamin’” and The Platters’ “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” The parade of products under the Chicken Soup for the Soul label just won’t quit. Now Rhino Records has released two Chicken Soup song compilation volumes, I’ll Be There For You (which doesn’t, by the way, include the Rembrandts hit of that name) and Celebrating Life. Each feature uplifting oldies from the likes of Chicago (“Saturday in the Park”), Helen Reddy (“Candle on the Water”), Kenny Loggins (“Whenever I Call You Friend,” “This is It”), Aretha Franklin and Eurythmics (“Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves”), James Taylor (“Shower The People”), Bobby McFerrin (“Don’t Worry Be Happy”), Katrina and the Waves (“Walking on Sunshine”) and more. Each disc closes with closing thoughts by the authors of the Chicken Soup book series. The Hammer & Lace label has released another album to benefit the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations (NABCO) in preparation for the annual October Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A volume of duets was released last month; this month comes Man to Woman: Men of Note Sing For A Cause. Bryan Adams opens the disc with “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” and closes the volume with a comical duet between himself and model Linda Evangelista on the same song (she also plays accordion). This one won’t be released as a single! Other tracks include Sting’s “Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot,” Eric Clapton’s “Something Special,” Mark Knopfler’s “Golden Heart,” Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful,” Peter Cetera’s “You’re The Inspiration” and Peter Frampton’s “Baby, I Love Your Way.”