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New Albums

By Thomas J. Clarke, Tiffany I. Hsieh, and Daniel M. Raper, Crimson Staff Writerss

Lemon Jelly (Impotent Fury)

Behind Lemon Jelly are Nick Franglen and Fred Deakin, an experienced-producer-and-DJ duo from the UK who have worked as session musicians for the Spice Girls. It’s hard to describe the nine tracks of this garishly colored, surreal album, which is a compilation of the previous three Lemon Jelly EPs: The Bath, Yellow and Midnight. Their sound is minimalist, downtempo, chill-out acoustic ambient music, both monotonous and strangely charming at times.

“Homage to Patagonia” (Yellow) offers an interesting array of Eastern instrumentation blended with complex percussive work. “His Majesty King Raam” (Yellow) opens with a bewitching keyboard melody reminiscent of a nursery rhyme. The tracks from the other EPs, while filled with an similar, more commercial assortment of gentle, sleepy beats and merry melodies, spliced with the most random of random vocal samples, fail to inspire as much enthusiasm.

Occasionally Lemon Jelly’s sound becomes too Muzak, too effortless—like their name, too cloyingly easy to swallow. “Nervous Tension,” in particular, with its ceaseless pounding bass, is just plain dull. There’s always a tendency to doze off while listening to this album, which is not at all displeasing, but does not make for the most exciting music. But the simple keyboard melodies, looped around the urban beats and guitar riffs, lend a peculiar ambience to the entire album. It’s just a bit boring (or should I say soporific) at times. Perfect to fall asleep to. —Tiffany I. Hsieh


Mutter (Republic)

Take away the flamethrowers, the medieval torture devices, and the phallic stage props, and what remains of Rammstein? A pretty good industrial band, apparently. While the German sextet’s U.S. debut (1998’s Sehnsucht) was a full-throttle fusion of electronic sounds and speed-metal riffs, Mutter is clearly the work of a leaner and smarter group. As usual, the key is Rammstein’s oh-so-Teutonic precision.

Singer Till Lindemann delivers the lyrics in a movie-villain baritone (even counting to 10, as he does at the beginning of “Sonne,” carries a certain menace), while Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers’ drive home guitar riffs sharp enough to put Limp Bizkit et al. to shame. But what sets Mutter apart is the group’s newfound attention to dynamics and detail—often, as on the anthemic “Ich Will,” brief ambient soundscapes make the whole track greater than the sum of its parts. The same can especially be said for the opening track, “Mein Herz Brennt,” the best industrial-speed-metal song Led Zeppelin never recorded. Of course, Rammstein is still a band in transition; the latter half of Mutter is filled with the sort of flimsy Ministry imitations (“Zwitter,” “Rein Raus”) that kept Sehnsucht from receiving serious critical acclaim. The group’s vaguely grotesque and disturbing lyrics have not changed either. Listeners should consult English translations at their own risk. Rammstein may not speak their American fans’ language, but they definitely understand that rocking smarter and rocking harder are not mutually exclusive.  —Thomas J. Clarke


Black Market Music (Virgin)

Placebo don’t get as much recognition as they deserve. True, they were the voice of the movie Cruel Intentions, but does anyone really remember anything they’ve done except that infamous line from “Pure Morning”— “A friend in need’s a friend indeed/ A friend with weed is better”? Well, the boys from Britain are back with Black Market Music. Although it doesn’t immediately grab the listener with the catchy rock tunes of their 1998 release, Without You I’m Nothing, Black Market Music is much more musically complex. The album has a definite alternative flavour, with heavier use of guitars with little respite. However, the band does experiment considerably, deviating from their previous songs with female-backing vocals, and even one hip-hop track. The major innovation, though, is a transfer of emphasis from the melody to the music, with many songs consisting of one or two lines of text repeated over and over.

It’s a little paradoxical, then, that what seems to carry this album, tying it together and giving it its individuality, is Brian Molko’s voice. The album’s songs are its singles, “Special K” and “Slave to the Wage,” which highlight the band’s aggressivity. The opening track, “Taste in Men,” somewhat prefigures the rest of the album with its comment, “Change your style again/Change your taste in men.” While this is a broadening of style for the band, it retains the most recognizable and strongest elements of its sound.

Although their experimentation on Black Market Music doesn’t always pay off, Placebo’s willingness to change bodes well for their future development. —Daniel M. Raper

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