Eight Arms To Hold You
Chicago's hottest act after The Smashing Pumpkins has finally pulled the wrapping off their second full-length album (following a lukewarm four-song EP released last year). Eight Arms to Hold You is definitely a grabber (pun intended) and features a more "grown-up" version of Veruca Salt. Gone are the whimsical lyrical plays of "Seether" and "Number One Blind" from their first LP American Thighs which broke the band nationally. Over the past couple years, Veruca Salt's Louise Post and Nina Gordon have concentrated on honing their dual vocal and buzzsaw guitar sound, rather than on writing more "cutesy" tunes. That's a quality tradeoff in this critic's opinion — American Thighs spotlit a band which concentrated harder on its rhyme than on getting signed. Eight Arms is a glossier, more "packaged" effort, but its pure rock candy guitar riffs are hard to beat. This could easily be the highway driving album of the upcoming summer season.
Whereas punk producer Steve Albini tried to emphasize the rawer, live side of Veruca Salt on the band's '96 EP, veteran hard rock producer Bob Rock tuned up the controls for Eight Arms. Rock pushes the band to play to its strengths: strong luscious harmony vocals and crunchy, riffy, knock-em over with attitude rhythm guitar. In fact, the guitar sound on this record will likely be imitated for the next couple of years by bands all over the globe. It's distorted, garage-y and tough while still having more hooks than a bait shop and as much "pop" as any U2 single.
It all kicks off with "Straight," a song that could be taken a lot of ways, but the easiest reading is that it's an anti-drug anthem about how much sharper the Post's love interest is when he's "straight." It's a hard-hitting guitar and wail fest, followed up by the CD's first single, the aptly named "Volcano Girls," a song which not only references the band's first single, "Seether," but cops the "Walrus is Paul" line from The Beatles to do it.
Veruca Salt's bubblegum side comes out in "Awesome," which literally leaves the girls crooning about how it's "so awesome this feeling that's come over me" through much of the song. There's a catchy little homage to falling in love "With David Bowie" (how many songs use the phrase "you betcha" these days, anyway?) and a slow lighter anthem to "Benjamin" that could have been recorded by a nascent The Bangles. The chiming guitar melody and mid-song vocal bridge of "The Morning Sad," as well as the falsetto tips of 'Loneliness is Worse" would also have fit in well with The Bangles' repetoire, had that band ever learned how to turn up the distortion pedal a bit more. So you see that Rock vs. Albini as a producer has definitely brought out more of the pop element of the band.
Unfortunately, Bob Rock wasn't able to stem the band's less admirable tendencies; the whispering counterpoints in "Shutterbug" are corny as heck, and the go-nowhere riffs of "Venus Man Trap" go...well, nowhere. And the album ends with one of the band's trademark slide guitar mood songs "Earthcrosser" which eventually kicks into low gear, but not until after way too many yawns.
Thankfully, most of the throwaways occur towards the end of the disc, which leaves a solid nine or 10 songs before things start to slide.
Counting Crows are currently touring for their sophomore LP Recovering the Satellites; the band played two sold-out shows last week at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom. Despite the limitations induced by the Aragon's cavernous-sounding echo, The Crows pulled off a set loaded with emotional moments and musical innovation. In a daring move, the band took its breakthrough single "Mr. Jones" and transformed it from rock anthem to acoustic mood piece. It was actually more affecting in this reframing which ended with a new lyric that no doubt refers to the Crows' newfound fame: "Mr. Jones, we don't see each other much any more." An extended impromptu lyrical and musical addition to "Round Here" was less successful, but still seemed heartfelt on singer Adam Duritz's part. Duritz has recently shaved off his goatee, and seemed more relaxed and "normal" than ever as he sat on the edge of the stage or the top of the piano for the quieter songs. While the Aragon's muddy sonics ruined the lyrical impact of some of the material, the band's intensity was edge-on hot at all times. If they come back through Chicago on a summer leg of the tour, check 'em out.... New on the record racks: The Right Stuff record label (which has been trying to mimick Rhino Records lately with a slew of rereleases and collections) has reissued a stack of '70s and early '80s R&B records, including two early Shalamar albums, Three for Love and Uptown Festival. Also available now are The Whisper's Headlights. The Deele's Street Beat and Eyes of a Stranger, and Lakeside's Shot of Love.