--J.F.

Old 97's
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Country & Western, Male Vocalist (Rhett Miller), Local Musician of the Year (Miller), Songwriter (Miller), Single Release ("Timebomb"), Album Release (Too Far To Care, Elektra Records)

pHitchhike to Rhome, Wreck Your Life, and last year's Too Far To Care (the band's Elektra Records debut) contain, between them, a couple dozen winning moments; they're each delightful, literate, polished pop records dolled up in thrift-store western wear and borrowed twangs. They're a No Depression trifecta, the kind of records made by young men who figured out after so much trial and error that they need look only as far as their back yard for inspiration. Back in the day, Rhett Miller used to sing Brit; now, he affects a hitch in his giddy-up every now and then, but I have no doubt this year's model is closer to real life than any of its predecessors. A little age and experience have turned Miller into a smart, substantive songwriter with a little meat on his frail bones. Miller's a long way into a career, having produced one solo album (Mythologies), a handful of cassettes with Rhett's Exploding and Sleepy Heroes and whatever else he's done, and now three records with the 97's. Miller has made giant strides forward in a short amount of time; he has grown up in public like few other local performers and survived the ordeal.

Indeed, Too Far to Care is a bigger, brasher counterpart to its two predecessors; songs such as "Curtain Calls" and "Timebomb" play harder than anything Miller has done in his young life, their pop melodies colored by a rich country shuffle. "Niteclub" swings with a reckless Hootenanny vibe ("I just might get drunk tonight, and burn the nightclub down," Miller sings). "Four Leaf Clover" gets some extra kick from guest Exene Cervenkova; Rhett's longtime collaborator Murry Hammond takes a surprising and heartfelt lead on "West Texas Teardrops"; and the whole package is a soundtrack to a road trip across Route 66 ("Just Like California"). These boys aren't country, or what passes for it these days; they're better than that.

--R.W.

Pantera
Nominated for: Metal
Pantera gets dogged constantly for its glam-metal past, but it never had one, really. Maybe there was a pair of Lycra zebra-print trousers or two pictured on those Metal Magic or I Am the Night LPs, and bassist Rex used to have the surname Rocker, but after four albums of filthy gristle, it's time to put that epithet to rest. The best you can say is that Pantera pulled a "Celtic Frost in reverse" move: When those screwy Swiss death-metalers became pretty poofs for 1988's Cold Lake, fans were hurling themselves off the Matterhorn for weeks.

Pantera live, featured on last year's Official Live disc, is all bone and taut muscle: "A New Level" is possibly the most galvanizing song any band has ever used to begin a set, maybe even surpassing the Stones' "Start Me Up" (Apple Computers should co-opt it--take that, Microsoft!). The brothers Paul--Vinnie on drums, Darrell on strafing guitar--shuffle and skid like a tap-dancing Sherman tank, and manic-depressive singer Philip Anselmo--long recovered from shooting something other than empties in his back yard--is a gnashing wolverine; it's hard to take Anselmo's lyrics very seriously when he's singing in a throaty bark, "Fuck the world for all it's worth/Every inch of planet Earth." The Great Southern Trendkill, released in 1996, was a killjoy of an album too, but that's to be expected from Anselmo, a man singularly unsuited for the role of rock star. The taste of rubber and leather must be getting a bit old after the many times he's put his foot in his mouth--odes to blue Valium ("10s") aren't so neato in light of Anselmo's 1996 drug events--but after having seen him perform, I do actually believe him when he says he's always misinterpreted. He's far from eloquent, but as a self-pitying loose cannon, he's fascinating: "Are you ready to rock?" it's not.

--Joshua Sindell

Pimpadelic
Nominated for: Rap/Hip-Hop
If it's a joke, then pardon me for missing the punch line; if it's parody, then excuse the hell out of me for not cracking a grin. They know they're "the most hated band in Dallas." They say so right at the beginning of the brand-new Statutory Rap, introducing a batch of songs that include such memorable titles as "Tits," "Middle Finger," "Pissin' Needles," and "Gaybird Fever." And they revel in their smarm, rolling around like pigs in shit. The music reveals they've got some good taste buried beneath that dumb-ass demeanor--though no better than the Red Hot Chili Peppers around the time of Mother's Milk. But it isn't funky enough or novel enough to warrant the time it takes to weed through the inane, junior-high misogyny ("Drop your drawers tonight/If you don't want to show pussy, baby/Tits will be all right") and smug racism. (The Amos and Andy voice at the intro makes Birth of a Nation seem positively progressive.)

They're white boys who get off on looting the ghetto, neither understanding or appreciating the culture they appropriate; they mistake their dicks for microphones and think a little embezzled funk is enough to put over the joke. But even the dim self-awareness ("Hated") isn't enough to justify the end result: People hate Pimpadelic for a reason--because, in the end, they don't play well as caricatures or exaggerations; they're having far too much fun to dismiss their puerile hip-hop as just a benign goof. A joke is never funny when it's mean-spirited, and music is never good when it's this bad.

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