CD Reviews

Radio Birdman

Zeno Beach

(Yep Roc)

First off, it bears mentioning that if you're reading this review and you haven't picked up Radios Appear, the best Australian rock album of 1977 and/or 1978 (depending on how much you love U.S.-version add-on single "Aloha Steve and Danno," which should pretty much be "a ton" anyways), it might not entirely register why it's such a damn shame that Radio Birdman's reunion album is a staggering mediocrity. Big deal—punk groups release one or two great records, break up, and reunite decades later in a diminished capacity all the time; it's like moping about the weather at this point. Thing is, the signs are there that Zeno Beach could've been good: Deniz Tek still solos like he deserves to own Wayne Kramer's guitar; Pip Hoyle's keyboard sounds great when it's not buried in the mix; and their new rhythm section could disintegrate Kevlar. All it would've taken was for Rob Younger to be Rob Younger. The voice that made the band infamous in the '70s was an amelodic rasp, barking out apocalyptic panic attacks like a dispatcher for Mad Max, maybe throwing in a note when it worked but leaving the melodic heavy lifting to Tek's guitar. Somewhere in the midst of his tenure fronting the New Christs, though, Younger's gotten the weird notion that he can carry a tune, which means that a batch of serviceable hard-rock songs—less intense than their heyday, but thankfully free from the gutless gloss of '81 postmortem Living Eyes—are overlaid with a halfway-tuneless soprano lead that, at its nadir, sounds like David Johansen making fun of Morrissey. It's a shame when the best you can say about a Radio Birdman reunion album is that it beats listening to Jet. NATE PATRIN

New York Dolls

One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This

(Roadrunner)

"They go to work, we go to play," David Johansen declares on "We're All in Love," the first new studio product to bear the New York Dolls brand in 32 years. Their first time around, the Dolls set such high standards for wit, velocity, and tuff-guitar flash that even now 20-year-olds revere them. With only David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain remaining, the new lineup owns both charm and limitations; One Day is where we learn that the screee of Johnny Thunders' ax really was inimitable. Johansen's ability to bring meaning and fun is basically unchanged, though, and tracks like "Dance Like a Monkey" ("Evolution is so obsolete") and "I Ain't Got Nothin'" show what he can still do with his wide range of sources—and that huge heart. RICKEY WRIGHT

Supersystem

A Million Microphones

(Touch and Go)

Is it possible to talk about a band like Supersystem without invoking the term "dance-punk"? Probably not, given their penchant for programmed beats and synthesizers, interspersed with throbbing bass lines and spindly guitar licks—essential ingredients of the genre. But the band formerly known as El Guapo doesn't follow the rules exactly, as evidenced by an intense focus on melody and a world music tinge to these beats—check out Rafael Cohen's Graceland-style guitar riffs. Their best moments come when they stray farthest from convention, eschewing 4/4 rhythms and electronic burbles for syncopated arrangements. The harps of "Eagles Fleeing Eyries" evoke Björk over disco bass and live drums, while the band toys with dancehall riddims on the pulsating "The Only Way It's Ever Been Done." "Joy," one of the record's best tracks, is the Supersystem version of electronic folk, as bass player/vocalist Justin Destroyer weaves a simple lyrical melody into an infectious refrain. What separates them from the rest is an eclectic take on the marriage of dance and punk, elevating their beats above the dance floor. JONAH FLICKER

White Whale

WWI

(Merge)

White Whale don't quite qualify as an indie supergroup, but members of the combo have some noteworthy credentials: Guitarist/vocalist Matt Suggs previously performed with Butterglory, bassist Rob Pope was one of the Get Up Kids, and so on. Their know-how informs WWI, an uncommonly accomplished debut with a minimum of blubber. Even though nautical themes surface regularly on tunes such as "What's an Ocean For?" and "The Admiral," the players steer clear of cutesiness or tiresome displays of irony. Moreover, the expected melodicism is supplemented by impeccable musicality (Dustin Kinsey's keyboarding impresses throughout) and a willingness to push arrangements beyond the three-minute boundary. Take "O' William, O' Sarah," which sets sail on a gentle sea of guitar and piano, picks up steam during a stirring chorus, and then drifts into a thrilling sonic squall before emerging intact once the storm clears. Some aspects of this disc are tough to explain, including why these guys sound sorta British despite being based in Lawrence, Kan. In the end, however, White Whale are still quite a catch. MICHAEL ROBERTS

 
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