Much-hyped Scouse outfit shows promise but little passion.
It's become a pathetic axiom of post-millenial rock 'n' roll that bands who lob a definite article in front of their name are going to get drenched in the slobber of a billion giddy rock critics. But unlike the Music (who, mark my words, are going to go down as the Candlebox of this whole "RockIsBack!" thing), ber-hyped Liverpudlians the Coral actually carry with them a crop of good ideas. Their trouble is getting those ideas to fuse into a single coherent thought. As their name implies, the Coral have a fondness for pirate-ship rock, and their songs are cluttered with more nautical references than a Stevenson reader. They rant about anchors and sterns and shipwrecks like Ahab on a rum bender, and their music is a 'shroom-ravaged panorama of shanties, free jazz, psych, and ska. The end result may be thoroughly unique, but it's also oddly academic. Only twice do the seafaring Brits ever really sound inspired: on the chenka-chenk doo-wop number "Dreaming of You" and the wild-eyed Beefheart freak-out "Skeleton Key." Otherwise, the songs generate the same kind of intellectual assent usually reserved for Fassbinder or fois gras: You do a whole lot of appreciating without ever actually enjoying. J. EDWARD KEYES
The Coral play the Showbox at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 20 with Supergrass. $17/$14 adv.
That's How I Walk
Well-traveled Canuck songsmith proves sad songs say so much.
Just as we like our lawyers to be sharks and our tax advisers nimble, we prefer our singer-songwriters doomed. We celebrate when they're dead. Put 'em in a Volkswagen commercial and let their estates ride the rails to riches. Just so long as their material bleeds from a heart-shaped box that always wants what it hasn't got. While living, keep them on the road until every town is a blur and their love life is counted only in numbers and failed intimacy. Once they get happy, they go Hollywood anyway. Vancouver-bred, Toronto-based Stephen Fearing wields several impressive weapons. He fingerpicks till he's sore, sings sad songs until he's hoarse (sounds better when he's losing again), and writes with hints of despair without getting swallowed up by pity. His sixth studio album's notable for its extra arrangementsa mournful organ here, a Shawn Colvin harmony vocal there. These little touches spritz things up enough to get a few more people in the doorand lead him dangerously close to that MOR adult folk category he flirts with for a living. But what keeps the audience captive is the same old romantic mystery that Fearing's been expertly mining for years. Whether he's chasing memories ("Wailing Wall") or rejecting their sentiments (the title track), Fearing twists notes in sad reflection, savoring that loner/pioneer spirit that moves his body from town to town. ROB O'CONNOR
Stephen Fearing plays the King Cat at 9 p.m. Friday, March 21 with Kelly Joe Phelps and Willy Porter. $27.50/$24.50 adv.
I Suck on That Emotion
(Drag City Records)
'Scuse me while I diss these guys.
If there's anything missing from the Experience Music Project's namesake exhibit, I'm going to blame Ian Svenonius and the rest of the Scene Creamers. From the second these songs come out of your stereo speakers until the final note is played nearly 40 minutes later, the guitar is pretty much plastered with Hendrix wah, whammy, and fuzz. And Svenonius' delivery? Never has the DC vocalist (see Nation of Ulysses and the Make-Up) been more breathless, gasping, and prone to whispering. The album's best track, "Candidate," starts off with Alex Minoff and Michelle Mae's sexy, slinking blues guitars while distant, pretty voices purr, "I was the candidate for the president." When Svenonius comes in and starts talking about taking a bullet, his voice is thin, high, and heavily sandpapered, and the track's kicked-back, one-riff vibe is equally as comfortable and worn-in. Similarly, "Elfin Orphan" drives home in "Crosstown Traffic" style with its fuzz-punctuated solo and a keen sense of escalating exasperation. Then there's "Session Man," a psychedelic lament that really only repeats what the Kinks said about that type of guy in a song of the same name years ago. But, on the other hand, tracks like "Here Comes the Judge, Pt. 2" and "Luxembourg" find the Scene Creamers getting up out of their acid-rock easy chairs and turning out some blues-tinged garage-rock stompers that, surprisingly, aren't tired at all. And, as ever, Svenonius can get into politics, poetry, and petty foppishness all on the same LP. LAURA CASSIDY
Scene Creamers play Graceland at 9 p.m. Saturday, March 22 with Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks. $13.