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John Flansburgh on The Zombies, Velvet Revolver

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The co-founder of They Might Be Giants takes a look at the new albums by Velvet Revolver, The Beastie Boys, Franz Ferdinand and...the long lost album of The Zombies. They Might Be Giants will have a new album released on 7/13/04:


The Great Lost Zombies Album


Published: July 4, 2004

OLYPHONIC SPREE Their uplifting music along with the sheer girth of their 20-plus band and choir got the Polyphonic Spree a lot of critical notice and led to a song placement in an iPod/Volkswagen television commercial last year. Performing in flowing robes and singing anthems of joy without a speck of irony, the Spree puts on a live show that could easily be confused with a Sun Myung Moon coronation sans senators. The musical sprawl finally comes into sonic focus on its major-label debut album, "Together We're Heavy" (Hollywood Records), and the results are impressive. They are musical disciples of the Beach Boys/Beatles psychedelic era, and their sound can be as beautiful as it is unnervingly ecstatic. The Polyphonic Spree are not a response to grunge; but like the Flaming Lips, they seem to be what comes after.


THE ZOMBIES The group's "Odessey and Oracle," the great lost album of 1968 psychedelic rock, is being reissued by Fuel 2000. The album was so of its time that the misspelled title made it all the way to the finished product. The Zombies had a hit with the haunting "She's Not There" in 1965, but three years later, as they created "Odessey and Oracle," they teetered on professional oblivion. The original Zombies line-up would not survive to enjoy the success of this perfectly balanced song cycle, or, as it turned out, one of their biggest hits. The single off the album, "Time of the Season," would be released a year later and make it all the way to No. 3 on the charts. Thanks to oldies radio, "Time of the Season" might be the only song you'll skip, but if you like rock with a trippy tinge, this is a great album to discover.

THE BEASTIE BOYS The Beastie Boys' spectacular evolution over their first three albums was startling. Their brat rap debut album, "Licensed to Ill," was a dubious musical achievement, but while creating the follow-ups "Paul's Boutique" and "Check Your Head," they became studio masters. The Beasties Boys found a balance of live and sampled elements that still sounds inspired. Since then each Beastie Boys release has seemed something of a variation on the "Check" template — some busier, some cleaner. While their new album, "To the Five Boroughs" (Capitol), is sonically inviting, and their new rougher, full-grown-man style of rapping is often exciting, ultimately the album seems predictable. Sadly, although it is hard to know for sure, it appears they have put their band instruments away completely, which is unfortunate since their self-sampled clatter brought such a distinctive fire to "Check Your Head." Maybe the most meaningful thing that has changed is the world around them. It is hard not to notice the creative explosion among hip-hop's best producers — Timbaland, Missy Elliott, N.E.R.D./Neptunes, Dr. Dre and especially Eminem. They all share the Beasties' smart and stylish double-cool swagger and real humor but also include crushing sound, ultra-vivid samples and vocal treatments and, dare I say it, fresh beats! If the band got back to playing instruments together or simply got more aggressive with its electronic based-tracks, "To the Five Boroughs" could be far more compelling.

FRANZ FERDINAND The charming self-titled debut album from this young Scottish band is a personal favorite. When the drummer slides into the generic "disco" beat, he captures the simple joy of a million bar bands. The songs have loose, easy arrangements that suggest relaxed writing sessions in a rehearsal studio and happy discovery, rather than the tortured diary entries set to quarter-note guitar chugging that so much of the alternative rock scene is preoccupied with. Smart and stylish, Franz Ferdinand is fun.

VELVET REVOLVER I find the name Velvet Revolver disturbing. There is a very important band named the Velvet Underground. When thinking up a band name, one has to acknowledge that some names are just taken. This lack of originality is at the core of what is bad about this band. There is a pervasive "everything's been done" aspect to its album, "Contraband" (RCA), but as this is a band composed entirely of hard rock veterans, perhaps, for them, it has. This album recently entered the chart at No. 1 because of the band's super-group status. Velvet Revolver's gifted lead singer, Scott Weiland, started his rock career with Stone Temple Pilots, while the lead guitarist Slash, who enjoys what is possibly the sweetest talent-to-success ratio in popular music, is formerly of Guns 'n' Roses. The return of Guns 'n' Roses has been eagerly awaited for years by millions. When word got out that Velvet Revolver had formed, that it included other ex-members of Guns 'n' Roses and that it was going to be "heavy," I suspect many fans thought this might be the closest they'd ever get to a resurrected Guns 'n' Roses. The pity is Mr. Weiland couldn't find a more inspired vehicle for his very real talent.  

John Flansburgh is a co-founder of the band They Might Be Giants, whose new album, "The Spine," will be released on July 13.http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/04/arts/music/04PLAY.html

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