This could have been better. Should have been better. Why postpone the obvious? Two years ago, even last year, there was no reason to expect much/anything from Fixture. Why would you? All they had to show for themselves was 1998's ultra=sound, which wasn't much, but hey, they were just starting out. They'd probably get better--they practically had to--though there wasn't enough on ultra=sound to warrant any breath being held unnecessarily. Then Local Access Sessions: Vol. 1 Summer 2000 was released, and even though there were two stellar tracks by Pleasant Grove, Fixture's contributions, "Bodi's Song" and "After Venus" (included on ((audio)) as well), were the real revelations on the disc, and really, the only reason to shell out five bucks. In the acoustic setting, Fixture showed that it could carry a tune without a handle or a spotter, that it was a band capable of far more subtlety and nuance than it had allowed itself on ultra=sound. That it was worth waiting for.

Too bad ((audio)) breaks that promise, falling back on easy answers to questions that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. The pop band that the stripped-down one-two punch on Local Access Sessions revealed went back to hiding behind the rock band that Fixture just isn't--let's face it--original enough to be. And it's a shame, because there are exceptions: "After Venus" still shines here, and whenever the band shuts up for a second, it's not an uncomfortable silence. Of course, when the best song on your album is a cover--in this case, a fairly straightforward reading of Tears for Fears' "Shout"--it means your band needs to either a) start writing better songs or b) start covering worse ones. Fixture has a shot at the former; moments of adequacy and, occasionally, decency litter the 11 tracks on ((audio)). But unless singer-guitarist Dave Howell and the rest of his get-fresh crew figure out the chord changes to, say, a John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band tune, they won't stumble onto slimmer pickings than the Roland Orzabal/Curt Smith oeuvre.

Honestly, this isn't a bad effort at all, and Howell and the rest of the band--bassist Luke Dick, guitarist Bucky Cole, and drummer Chris Tyson--are certainly playing with a much lighter touch than they displayed on ultra=sound. Still, Cole and Howell do little more than play along with whatever happened to be on MTV at the time, and Howell doubles his karaoke winnings with his vocals, which actually belong to Gavin Rossdale. It's the kind of record that's meant to sound good on a radio, and yes, ((audio)) would be right at home among the coolrocksmartpop at the Merge. Maybe someday that will be a good thing.

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