CD Reviews

HARVEY DANGER, King James Version (London) A radio programmer friend once told me the most common problem with the avalanche of CDs he'd rifle through every week: "You put the first song on, and you think, 'Hmmm. This is pretty cool.' Then they start singing and it's all over." This sort of thing didn't hurt Seattle's Harvey Danger out of the box; their debut single, "Flagpole Sitta," became a nationwide hit. But that song caught the tail end of modern-rock's waning wave, largely because it felt like a novelty hit. Although nothing on the band's new King James Version fits that description, nothing seems likely to follow "Flagpole Sitta" onto the radio, either. But the album's main problem isn't its radio-worthiness or lack thereof. Take "Meetings with Remarkable Men," the lead cut. The band's been studying their Sticky Fingers, they've even got the Nicky Hopkins piano down. It rocks and it's concise, you even wanna say "Whoo!" . . . and, ah shit, there's frontman Sean Nelson and his adenoidal self-regard, standing between you and a good time. And beating the sophomore slump seems to have inflated his most overblown tendencies: "The Same as Being in Love," the album's big climax, features simplistic metaphors along the lines of "You were the theme/And I was the variation" and "I was the typo/You were the Liquid Paper." Nelson, of course, isn't Liquid Paper—he's just gauche, singing those lines so obnoxiously it'd make Alanis Morissette ball up in embarrassment. Maybe they'll have another hit after all. —Michaelangelo Matos

BETTIE SERVEERT, Private Suit (Palomine/Hidden Agenda) Bettie Serveert were set adrift following 1997's Dust Bunnies, dropped by Matador, seemingly never to be heard from again. You couldn't really blame the label for scuttling the Dutch popsters, since they'd reached their commercial peak five years earlier with the lovably brittle Palomine and its air- guitar-inspiring mini-hits "Tom Boy" and "Kid's Allright." Still, a band as distinguished as this deserves better, and fortunately they've decided to soldier on. Private Suit suggests that bold-voiced singer Carol Van Dyk, kamikaze guitarist Peter Visser, and the rest never took time off to brood about their failures. More polished than ever and marinated in the same sort of moody introspection that marked their best early work, these songs achieve an elegance comparable to Yo La Tengo—ironically, one of the rock bands that Matador allowed to mature. Private Suit's most immediate track, "Satisfied," barely references the guitar, a shocker coming from a band that once channeled Neil Young's early '70s caterwauls. Instead, Van Dyk whispers atop a cushiony bed of strings and marimbas and a loping, laid-back beat that's perfectly in step with her pained lament, "Tell me what are we looking for/If all we really want is each other." Even when they rock, Bettie Serveert now sound less prone to let their emotions run astray; thus songs like the title track and "My Fallen Words" amble along melodically, with the touches of detail coming not from a distorted guitar solo but from understated keyboard lines or breezy acoustic riffs. Nostalgic fans might miss the unstudied brashness and naive vocals, but this band's following a natural course, something they almost weren't able to do given the lack of an outlet. And yet they seem to welcome flux in life and, perhaps metaphorically, in the record business, judging by the way Van Dyk delivers the chorus in the opening track. Sounding

at once defiant and triumphant, she insists again and again, "It's good to be unsound."—Richard A. Martin

 
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