First things first: White Pony, the just-released third album by Sacramento new-metal act the Deftones, does not belong on the shelf next to stuff by Radiohead or Fugazi, despite what Maverick Records or a few overzealous critics may have told you. It's simply too unrealized and showy and self-consciously angsty an effort to earn that place: Thom Yorke and Ian MacKaye would never, ever name a song "Pink Maggit" (or "Street Carp," for that matter), and neither would utter anything as faux meaningful as "I'll steal a carcass for you / Then feed off the virus," as head 'Tone Chino Moreno does on "RX Queen." (Then again, Kurt Cobain probably would, so...) But this is new metal we're talking here, and you take what you can get.
That preamble out of the way, though, the record is a triumph, a genuinely creative work by a band expected to deliver much less, surrounded by groups who routinely do. How do the Deftones skirt the wackness most of this country's current metal bands (rap-flecked or otherwise) stick to? By bypassing Limp Bizkit and the Insane Clown Posse's you-beat-me-down-so-I'll-beat-you-up cul de sac in favor of a we've-all-been-beat-down-so-let's-show-each-other-our-wounds approach. Yeah, it's problematic too, but pathos makes for better art than punches (just ask Everlast), and White Pony is infinitely more compelling heavy metal than anything the Kottonmouth Kings have ever even considered.
Not that the band invented the idea. Korn's eked out several albums of similarly emotional hard rock, but where Jonathan Davis and company nearly always refuse to temper their bass-heavy churn-fests with melody, Moreno and his band let rays of light into their world. They drop pretty falsetto scraps of mercury into the chugging melee and slip in a handful of relatively enormous hooks. Moreno knows singing along is great therapy, and with White Pony, he's made an album to heal a nation of disaffected youngsters.
He also, like his predecessor Billy Corgan, sees the fragile radiance in heavy, distorted rock music. Pony's kind of like an unconflicted-metal-fan version of a Smashing Pumpkins record, burying moments of gossamer beauty like the delicate "Teenager" deep within the half-stacked hurricane and playing them against mountains of fuzz-box majesty like "Knife Party." He's a goth at heart too, flaunting his Joy Division and Cure influences like Fred Durst rocks his tired red baseball cap; that flair for the melodramatic works to feminize his yowl--check the Jeff Buckley-ish cooing that underpins "Digital Bath." Now imagine Durst doing the same. Can't? Thought so.