Out There

The Menace
(Atlantic Records)

In retrospect, it would have been better if Elastica had never been heard from again, if they disappeared inside a recording studio and didn't come out until the world didn't care anymore. Well, they actually did do part of that (save for blood relatives, does anyone care about Elastica now? Didn't think so), but they weren't smart enough to finish the job. History would have looked kindly on a band with one glorious album (1995's self-titled debut) in it, rather than one that has managed to live up to every stereotype about one-hit blunders in existence in less than half a decade. Revolving-door lineups, deterioration of personal and professional relationships, delays in the studio, rumored drug problems--all that and more came into play during the making of The Menace, a title that is certainly truth in advertising. After all, the album has done more harm to Elastica than anything outside of matching terminal illnesses for every member of the group.

More important than all the behind-the-music nonsense, The Menace is simply a bad album, as dull and lifeless as Elastica was sharp and vibrant. It trudges away from the starting blocks (to the tune of what sounds like "Connection" being played on an Atari 2600) and sophomore slumps to the finish line; if they had merely gone through the motions, it would have been an improvement. Seriously, five years for this? Not freaking likely. People didn't wait five years for Elastica to release The Menace, unless they have a habit of expecting the worst so it doesn't seem that bad when it happens. This disc couldn't be any more of a letdown if it included a cover of an annoying relic from the '80s. Oh wait, it does: the note-for-freakin'-note version of Trio's "Da Da Da," which closes out the album. It's not as if Elastica were staggeringly original; the only thing that kept singer-guitarist Justine Frischmann and company from being the world's greatest Wire cover band is that they loved the Stranglers too. But at least they used to steal from better places.

At best, it seems as if Frischmann is only vaguely familiar with the tight, angular songs she used to be capable of writing, letting the melodies meander without going anywhere, pausing every once in a while only to look around in confusion. For instance: the all-instrumental "Miami Nice" not only doesn't have any words, it doesn't have much of anything else, save for someone haphazardly turning a stereo on and off while Underworld's "Born Slippy" plays. Apparently, guitarist (and Frischmann's main collaborator) Donna Matthews took all of the band's talent with her when she left it last year. Or Frischmann's entire collection of Wire records, anyway.

Zac Crain

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Zac Crain
Contact: Zac Crain