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New Albums

By James Crawford, Andrew R. Iliff, and Daniel M. Raper, Crimson Staff Writers

Tenacious D

Tenacious D

(Epic)

Tenacious D, comprised of Jack Black (whom you probably know as foul-mouthed Barry in High Fidelity and now as Shallow Hal himself) and Kyle Gass, have recently released their self-titled debut album. Part metal, part acoustic, part spoken word and entirely hilarious, Tenacious D defies categorization.

If not for its inconsistency, the debut album would have the makings of a cult classic. The first single is “Wonderboy,” an epic battle-song of the title character and his nemesis, Nasty Man, who join forces at the end to become (surprise!) Tenacious D. The song appeals to the listener not only because of its comic narrative, but also for the fact that it stands alone as a conventional rock song.

The other tracks that distinguish themselves, however, do so as a result of their explicit nature. “Fuck Her Gently,” “Cock Pushups” and “Kielbasa” all have their humorous moments, but they are all on a scattological, college-boy-reveling-in-his-immaturity level. In fact, there is little on this album that would appeal to anyone other than college-age males.

The problem with Tenacious D is that it sags between songs; the skits and spoken tracks are not as funny as some of the musical material, and “Kyle Quit the Band” and “Drive-Thru” are lame and obvious space-fillers.

Still, once the initial prudishness wears off, Tenacious D becomes funnier each time you put it in the CD player.

—Daniel M. S. Raper

Hey Mercedes

Everynight Fire Works

(Vagrant Records)

Hey Mercedes were formed from the breakup of indie-rock band Braid; in fact, but for the swapping of one guitarist, the line-up remains exactly the same. Their sound has changed just as little, so anyone who used to swoon or mosh to Braid can look forward to further bruised foreheads under Mercedes’ aegis. The songs on Everynight Fire Works are so solid and businesslike that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between them (at least for the uninitiated): The album is a barrage of dentist-drill distorted guitars marshalled by driving drums that border on militaristic. Yet Mercedes seldom stumble onto anything resembling a decent guitar hook, and attempt to make up for that fact with raucousness and occasional angular breaks. They are bolstered by a very solid, if not particularly imaginative rhythm section, who maintain the energy without which the album would be one long dirge.

Frontman Robert Nanna has a strong and plaintive, if somewhat unremarkable voice. The lyrics are mostly indistinct—which is not a huge loss to humanity—and wander mostly over onto the wrong side of the personal self-revelatory/Dadaist random incoherency divide. Nothing resembles a narrative, and characters underpin most of the songs. A fairly random sampling, from “Our Weekend Starts on Wednesday” yields: “Out of the darkness / Sings a signal to our sleep / APB for every dream / Dead within the week / Hooray.” It is about as obscure (and profound) as “Hit me baby one more time.” “Eleven to Your Seven” is the closest Mercedes come to a genuine pop song with a decent hook, though the lyrics are not exactly upbeat: “I spent the last three months / In mental traction / Woeing all I could foresee.” In the end, Hey Mercedes are a bit like dining hall macaroni and cheese: filling, not unsatisfying, but you probably wouldn’t pay money for it.

—Andrew R. Iliff

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985

(Sony)

Listening to the first of the double-disc album Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985 is a singularly surreal experience. When the legendary electric blues guitarist took the stage at the Swiss jazz festival on July 17, 1982, he was a relative unknown, receiving third billing under drummer Chris Layton and bassist Tommy Shannon. Throughout that night, Stevie Ray unleashed a torrent of blistering, fiery blues, but in a bizarre historical turn, the audience’s reaction mixed applause and jeers in equal parts. The story goes that Vaughan left the stage in tears, but his performance went down in musical lore. Jackson Browne and David Bowie bore witness to the spectacle. On the spot, Browne offered Vaughan free studio time and Bowie badgered the now-not-so-crushed guitarist to record guitar licks for his upcoming Let’s Dance album. Vaughan accepted, and was soon catapulted to superstardom during a musical generation weaned on soft synth-pop.

The double album, the sum of Vaughan’s first Montreux performance and his triumphant return in 1985, represents the first comprehensive collection of those celebrated live performances. Needless to say, the compilation is simply glorious. Vaughan was as adept at funneling rip-roaring blues through his guitar as he was pulling out smouldering riffs from its strings, and the first Montreux outing provides a brilliant sampler of his stunning—if then still raw—talent.

After his inauspicious introduction, Vaughan rips into the Freddie King standard “Hide Away,” a somewhat safe shuffle opening that rolls over into the guitarist’s own “Rude Mood,” a thundering stampede of a follow-up. Such is Vaughan’s energy on “Rude Mood” that his rhythm section seems almost on the verge of breaking in their effort to match his flying fingers—his dexterity is perhaps only matched by spontaneous melodic invention.

Despite the legendary public reaction to Vaughan’s debut, there’s hardly an errant moment on the track. From the SRV composition “Pride and Joy” (since elevated to a blues staple) to the slow languorous burn that is Vaughan’s cover of “Texas Flood,” it’s evident that the man could just flat out play. In the early days before his discovery, Vaughan fused so much raw, open energy into his performance that even once removed through a recording, the presentation is nothing short of mesmerizing.

What a difference three years makes. When Vaughan returned to Montreux in 1985 (the second of the two-disc set), audience reception was markedly different the first. Two top-40 albums later, Vaughan was a known commodity—when he graced the stage in 1985, the Swiss hailed him as conquering hero. Fueled by an audience eruption, Double Trouble positively tears into “Scuttle Buttin,” soaring with impossible runs over Layton’s fast and loose percussion. While maturity had refined his playing, Vaughan clearly hadn’t lost his competitive fire. Grounded by Reese Waynans on organ in addition to Layton and Shannon, Vaughan returns to “Pride and Joy” for the symmetry of it all, this time transcending his original by infusing voice and playing with a thick, raw edge. Later, Double Trouble reprises “Texas Flood,” this time moving away from the first rendition’s stripped down brooding sensibilities toward a richer, more complex composition.

In 1982, Vaughan was crying through his guitar, but in 1985, he positively wails, his second throaty lament more focused and piercing than the already brilliant first. He’s also stretched out in style, layering his blues aesthetic with arena rock in “Life Without You” and conjuring a more subtle Jimi Hendrix in “Voodoo Child.” In Montreux, Vaughan refined his improvisational technique while simultaneously letting his sound run ragged and wide. As a monument to a visceral artist and a study in artistic maturity, this set, regardless of musical interest, is a must.

—James A. Crawford

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