Recordings

Various Artists
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: Suburbia
(DGC)

First Romeo & Juliet, then Beavis and Butt-head, and now Bogosian and Linklater. The whole idea of the soundtrack album has become that of a compilation for the alienated teen. (Not that this is a new concept, or even a bad thing. It's just that the corporate lube has reached extreme penetration.) Hear the young execs hashing out racehorse strategy in the Geffen boardroom: "We're building a soundtrack with integrity, damn it. Four hits deep, minimum. Catchy, angry stuff. Decent airplay. The real alternative. These kids aren't stupid. Johnson, get Sonic Youth on the horn. Pass them the reins. Use the recorded Linklater confession if you have to." Meanwhile, the doors swing open at the Geffen paddock, and Boss Hog, Elastica, and Beck are trotted out. Calls are made to other stables: Warner, Mo' Wax, American, Touch and Go. And the Alterna Stakes are on: the gritty leg in the Saggy Crown.

As a "modern rock" sampler, the Suburbia soundtrack isn't all bad (for 13 throwaways and a Gene Pitney oldie). It may, in fact, be better than the movie it's supposed to aurally extend. Three tracks by Sonic Youth and one solo number by Thurston Moore form the alternative backbone. "Bee-Bee's Song," a pretty/creepy Kim Gordon special (melodic, heavy bass, airy vocals) is by far the best of their cuts, and Thurston's four-track, off-key teen lamentation "Psychic Hearts," from an earlier release by the selfsame name, may be the worst song I've heard in a very long time (and I'm pretty sure it's not a joke). If Sonic Youth's noodling doesn't carry enough "cred" for you, then there's Elastica with Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) doing an inoffensive cover of X's "Unheard Music"; jangle wimps Superchunk doing a catchy "Does Your Hometown Care?"; the Butthole Surfers re-releasing "Human Cannonball," a pounding one-chord ditty from 1987; and Skinny Puppy (still) crackling and bleeping on a forgettable "Cult."

Points of interest (or, the odds-on faves): Girls Against Boys' decidedly rocking Stooges-style drone-a-thon "Bullet Proof Cupid"; the Flaming Lips' happy crumble "Hot Day," which unfortunately is a minute too short to amount to a mouthful of caterpillar fuzz; U.N.K.L.E.'s silly, sci-fi dancetronic butt-shaker "Berry Meditation," a must for your next body-paint Tupperware party; and Beck's melancholic Gordon Lightfoot "homage," "Feather in Your Cap." In fact, because "Feather in Your Cap" achieves an emotional complication that quietly slips past all the alternapretense (while remaining stylish), it may be the only element of this whole project, including the movie, that won't seem a bit worn a year (or week) from now. Big surprise, Beck wins the Saggy Crown, going away. (If he couldn't make music, you know he could have been a jockey.)

-- Curtis Bonney

Royal Trux
Sweet Sixteen
(Virgin)

Let me ask what should be the obvious question: What exactly are the merits of Royal Trux, other than providing slop for intellectually starved pop critics? The recurrent and graceless position taken in most Royal Trux reviews is not so much missionary as a pink ass wiggling from an empty trough. Nowhere else in rock journalism will you find so much furtive and fruitless rooting about for nuggets of meaning. It doesn't matter whether Sweet Sixteen is the latest or oldest release in the career of Trux partners Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema: No matter how many new, swoopy studio gimmicks they use to frost their gleet, they're nothing more (or less) than an incompetent Rolling Stones cover band. No need to dust off the signifiers from a semiotics term paper (or from a press release), no need to apply so great an analytical distance that we're above saying the music ain't so hot. It ain't.

Why have Trux become critical and hipster darlings? It's probably the clothes -- the junkie furs, the belt buckles, the star-spangled polyester. Either that, or it's their "habits": heartwarming reminders of a time when rock stars were ugly, dirty, drug-addicted, impulsive, and childish. Lots of face-down floaters, lots of TVs boosted over hotel balconies, lots of giggles, lots of statutory rape. And though Hagerty and Herrema have apparently cleaned up, they still dress the same. Shop like a rock star, get arrested like a shoplifter. Careful accessorizing of both the wardrobe and one's public behavior is obviously nothing spared from the Hagerty/Herrema repertoire: rock-star affectation upon white-trash posture by a pair of amiable Beltway brats. And while this is certainly amusing in a globs-in-a-petri-dish fashion, the music still leaves much to be desired. Is it catchy? Does it rock? Should it remain anything other than an underground spectacle? No, no, and no. Stumbled onto at some remote Ramada Inn, Royal Trux's act would gain a sense of bumpkin proportion, and would lack the crowd of sophisticates stroking chins.

-- Michael Batty

Townes Van Zandt
Rear View Mirror
(Sugar Hill)

"Goodbye to all my friends/ It's time to leave again." Townes Van Zandt, who passed away last New Year's Day at the age of 52, often addressed the subject of his departure -- from friends, places, and life itself. Judging from his songs, death and goodbyes did not unduly alarm him. Leaving seemed to be a bittersweet inevitability, life's only certainty. His engaging legacy constitutes a rather black-humored Chicken Soup for the Soul, the wise troubadour dispensing countless edifying observations, many along the lines of "Where you've been is good and gone/ All you keep is the getting there" ("To Live Is to Fly").

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