It wouldn't be worth putting up with all the ugliness of Come--the raspy howl of Thalia Zedek's voice, the ring and roar of Chris Brokaw's guitar--if there weren't a certain pop genius lurking just below the surface, almost afraid to show itself. Such has been the case since this Cambridge, Massachusetts, quartet bowed with a 1991 single; in an era of manic indie-rock self-invention, Come has changed its approach little over the course of three LPs (Eleven: Eleven, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the riveting Near Life Experience) and a revolving door of rhythm sections (the group has included former members of the Kilkenny Cats, Tortoise, the Jesus Lizard, and Louisiana's seminal Rodan). Don't Ask offered more light and less darkness, but the harmonic chaos of clashing guitars has remained at the center of the band's approach more or less throughout.
From the beginning, Come has aimed to translate the bluesy, raunchy meanness of the early Stones into a '90s, post-punk, post-metal setting. (The first LP even offered a cover of the Glimmer Twins' "I Got the Blues.") At its best--with a telepathic dual-guitar attack, sonic mean streak, and avoidance of grunge cliche--the group can come off as a kind of malevolent Television. Zedek and Brokaw are at their best, as it happens, for much of the brand-new Gently, Down the Stream. There's the majestic "Saints Around My Neck," in which guitars and voice drift like smoke until catching fire on the chorus. Or the melodic "New Coat," which shows the band's roots in Rust Never Sleeps-era Neil Young and the gentle, strummy side of the Velvet Underground.
That said, Gently won't win Come many new fans. Despite a new rhythm section (which includes Fuzzy's Winston Bramen) and an organ-driven instrumental piece with touches of piano ("The Former Model") the album offers the same virtues displayed on Near Life Experience: noisy, strangely voiced six-strings; two deadpan, world-weary vocal leads from Brokaw; and a whole lot of primal moaning from Zedek. Though Gently sometimes sounds a bit more low-key and down-tempo than the last few times around, skeptics who keep waiting for Come to branch out will continue to be disappointed. But fans of tense, desolate beauty, reckless momentum, and repressed pop hooks will come away from this record--and this band--inspired.
Come performs March 12 at the Galaxy Club.
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