This summer’s Lollapalooza festival comeback attempt failed in part because it banked success on a series of bands that have no relevance to today’s pop culture scene. The Curiosa festival next week at Tweeter Center should excel for exactly the opposite reason. The festival is headlined by The Cure, a band that has somehow weathered more than two decades of pop culture shifts and musical twists – not to mention a revolving door of lineup changes. Curiosa also brings together a handful of bands who both owe a debt to The Cure, and have cutting edge albums out this summer with something new to say. This is a festival about today’s music scene, not a revival of the ‘80s. Reviews of some of these appear below:

 

MuseMuse
Absolution
(Warner Bros.)
    


Bouyed by the electroclash bassline and handclaps of “Time Is Running Out,” Muse leapt out of obscurity to pop radio hitdom early this summer. But “Time” is only part of the story. While that single is truly an exceptional ‘80s-techno-meets-modern-gen-X rhythm track, the rest of the band’s third album, Absolution, is equally as entrancing, and equally as disparate. This is a CD about mood, tension and ecstatic resolution.

Opening with a pounding piano and the growing arpeggios and stadium-ready rock call of “Apocalypse Please,” Absolution moves from bombastically powerful rock to seductive classically-influenced interlude to metallic call-to-arms over the course of its 14 tracks. The disc ranges from the ‘80s throwback sound of the synthesized bassline of “Time Is Running Out,” to the Radiohead-esque declaration of “Apocalypse” and falsetto lull of “Sing for Absolution”; and on “Stockholm Syndrome” they roll out a smashing drum attack with a furious guitar riff that marries an intellectual influence with heavy metal and art rock exploration.

Muse is equally at home with quiet, soulful introspection; the three-quarter time French café feel of “Blackout” makes for a wonderful mid-album changeup. That’s followed by the building power of “Butterflies & Hurricanes” which lives up to its name in mixing textures both feather soft and bludgeon heavy. That’s followed by another pounding fist-raising rock anthem in “The Small Print” before they settle down again with the electric piano chording of “Endlessly.” It all closes with a harp arpeggio and a classical-sounding grand piano in “Ruled By Secrecy.”

Absolution is a wonderfully realized album that explores the hypnotic intersection of light and dark. This is one of the year’s best releases.


Auf der MaurAuf der Maur
Auf der Maur
(Capitol/EMI)
    ½


Melissa Auf der Maur is best known as the bassist for Hole, and briefly, in their final days, as the replacement for D’Arcy in Smashing Pumpkins. After the dissolution of the Pumpkins, she took some time off from music to focus on her photography, and then formed a Black Sabbath cover band for fun. But the woodshedding of previous pop stardom is done, and for her first time in the driver’s seat on a project, she signed to Liz Phair’s label, and recruited a variety of well-known musical friends from Queens of the Stone Age, Hole and the Pumpkins to help turn her hard-rock visions into a solid solo debut.

Capitol, no doubt, hoped to turn the same hat trick with der Maur that they did with Phair – converting an alternative rock darling into a crossover pop poster girl. While der Maur can hazard the same sultry appeal, her debut stays closer to her hard rock roots than to Top 40 radio fare, with plenty of elephantine guitar and bass lines and lots of work with the distortion pedal.

When she growls “one more time, one more time” in the opener “Lightning Is My Girl,” she sounds like she’s about to launch into a death metal song. But most of the time, der Maur is a straightforward rock vocalist, half speaking her lyrics over the thunderous stomp of the instruments.

While much of the album has a hard rock base, there are a couple tracks that are produced with enough studio gloss and harmony sheen to cross the line to pop radio. The chiming vocals in the chorus of “Real A Lie” and the “ooohs” and Veruca Salt-esque buzz of vocals and guitars of “Would If I Could” beg for radio play. And the quirky stop-start rhythms of “I’ll Be Anything You Want” show that der Maur has some musical breadth, and serve as a playful break to the rest of the album’s blistering attacks as she coos,

“I’ll be anything you want
you love me more than you love yourself
on my knees, on my knees
I’m begging you darling please, please…pick me.”

Likewise, the piano-only melancholy of “Overpower Thee” shows a deeper side to der Maur’s muse.

But with tracks like the crunch-riffed “My Foggy Notion” and “Skin Receiver,“ (which opens with a horses whinny and a galloping “Barracuda” style rhythm bed) der Maur shows her key influence – loud, sinuous rock and roll.

Play this one loud.