Comprised of MCs Prevail and Madchild, Swollen Members have created a notable underground following in the California rap circuit, and managed to become one of three groups affiliated with the Rock Steady Crew—Dilated Peoples and The Arsonists round out the triumvirate.
The duo’s sound is not ground-breaking, and may even sound similar at times to various other artists, but is not elementally derivative. Madchild, who also doubles as producer and head of the group’s label, Battle Axe Records, has a nasal timbre that sounds like a blending of Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and everyone’s favorite caustic caucasian, Marshall Mathers. Prevail’s tone is deeper—perhaps how Dr. Dre’s little brother might sound on the mic. These points noted, the combination is effective, especially when blended with the series of relatively complex beats that ground their rhymes.
Their lyrical content is at times slave to some of rap’s common themes, e.g. money—“I’m on six figures bitch, you drivin’ rental vans!” exclaims Madchild on “RPM.” Overall, however, the band hovers at a more conceptual and complex level—“dungeons and dragons” as Madchild describes their near mystical stylings in “Take it Back.” When playing to this depth, and combining eerie and haunting beats and samples with equally engaging rhymes, Swollen Members are at their strongest. “Deep End” has the smoothest beat on the album—a “Knight-Rider”-esque bubbling melody, ensconced in a faint synthesizer and steady drumbeat. Prevail and Madchild exchange verses seamlessly on the track, as they salute the midnight hours: “Work the latenight / Not that we hate light / Just feels right / That’s when tracks come out tight.”
Another highlight is “Burns and Scars,” featuring Son Doobie of Funkdoobiest. “Burns” is a mid-paced track with a memorable piano sample that finds Son Doobie’s jarring and aggressive voice a welcome foil to the usually subdued tones of the Swollen duo. While the track is pleasing to the ear, it again slips into a well-traveled rap niche: violence. Gun-shot blasts are sampled into the chorus where Son Doobie shouts, “Y’all can’t stop Swollen Members—BLAM-BLAM!”
Both Prevail and Madchild are gifted with notable flow, and are at their best when they roll in minor keyed and haunting beats: “Dark Riders,” “High Road” and “Bad Dreams” joining “Deep End” are the best examples of this. While they succeed in pulling off a more commercial vibe on “Fuel Injected,” which features the Nate Dogg-ish Moka Only lacing the track with his smooth bass/baritone, they remain best suited to the more cerebral, head-bobbing tracks, not the booty-shakers. —Michael T. Packard
Cocky Kid Rock To frustrated white males who enjoy strippers, watching wrestling, drunkeness, bragging, or sucking a plug of chaw while drag-racing strangers on their way home from work, Kid Rock offers Cocky, the follow-up to his platinum 1998 major-label debut, Devil Without a Cause.
Cocky is the kind of manufactured bad-assery we have come to expect from Rock. He announces his style on “Forever,” the first single from the album. “I take hard rock / and mix it with hip hop,” Rock rhymes, repeating the refrain to mix in punk rock, southern rock and surf rock. The result is as tedious as the lyrics that announce it: an anthology for the angry, including punk, hard metal and nasty-boy rap. Rather than fusing these elements into something new, Rock takes the most obvious attributes of each and throws them together.
The guitar solos are standard and the rap is weak, obscene with the thinness of 2 Live Crew but without the authenticity—what one expects from someone whose first big single, “Bawitdaba” thrived on little more than a copped and garbled Slick Rick lyric set to heavy metal. Kid Rock spends the better part of the album repeating the image of the American bad ass in his rock/hip-hop style: dirty-mouthed, abusive, drunk, drugged and not giving a damn.
Rock’s dwarf, Joe C., died last year, perhaps opening Rock’s introspective side in his passing. “What I Learned Out on the Road” and “Lonely Road of Faith” break new ground with digressions into the sad and soulful.
Even in these country clichés, however, he stops, mocks the attempt at sentiment, and falls backs into nasty rap and screaming guitars. A few guest appearances keep the album interesting. Snoop Dogg and Rock do a misogynistic duo on the last track, and Sheryl Crow joins Rock for a coked-out modern take on the your-cheating-heart standard.
On Cocky, Rock repeats enough of the style that made him a pop phenomenon to please his fans. For the rest, there’s nothing new or interesting enough to merit a second look. —Matthew F. Quirk
DETONATOR Bleachmobile Their website introduces Bleachmobile as “3 Japanese Girls from Okinawa,” but three little maids from school they’re not. The hardcore punk trio trash, bash and screech as well and as loudly as any of their male, North American counterparts.
But that, unfortunately, is the problem—the band’s U.S. debut, Detonator, fails to distinguish itself from the current glut of angry, amorphous Screamo available to the angst-ridden. Bleachmobile’s music is by no means bad—they are solid musicians and adopt convincing hooks reminiscent of Rodan, power-violence band Charles Bronson and the Bloody Mannequin Orchestra—but little is memorable on their 23 minute opus.
The tracks meld into one another with nary a departure from 4/4 time (save some interesting syncopation on “Santa Claus”) and the ever-present chromatic runs in the bass, guitar and vocal lines. The appropriately titled “Voice,” which is actually sung instead of screamed, is a notable exception. It is pretty, melodic and well-constructed, if not totally similar to tracks on Hole’s Live Through This.
The first few seconds of “Santa Claus” gesture towards use of robotic electronic accompaniment à la Men’s Recovery Project. This effort, however, is quickly abandoned, never to be attempted again. Bleachmobile’s failure to exploit any sort of electronic avenue is particularly disappointing considering their roots—other Japanese hardcore bands, such as Melt Banana, have produced first-rate hardcore through such manipulation.