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By Michael Henningsen
Ruben Studdard I Need an Angel (J Records)
Singing the living shit out of someone else's tried and true hit song—which “American Idol” winner Ruben Studdard can certainly do—is a far cry from making a convincing record full of untested and mildly familiar tunes. Studdard's second CD is a drink coaster that makes noise. The songs are limp, the vocal performances lack any discernible soul, and the whole affair sounds thoroughly uninspired. Studdard can sing, but he's at his best in a karaoke environment in front of a musically clueless television audience. As a recording artist, though, Studdard needs significantly more than just an angel. He'll be a realtor by 2006.
Behemoth Demigod (Century Media/Olympic Recordings)
Move over, Norway ... Poland is in the house! Catchiness isn't something generally associated with black or death metal, but damned if Behemoth haven't struck gold in that regard with Demigod. The record is scary, brutal, a technical mindfuck and infectious, both melodically and rhythmically infectious. Drummer Inferno proves himself to be the Neil Peart of extreme music, while guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Nergal creates post-apocalyptic imagery with what I'd call the first death metal lyrics that qualify as dark poetry. Nergal and bassist Orion conjure up an almost mystical form of neo-thrash that defines complexity. This is the future.
Damnwells Bastards of the Beat (Epic)
If there's one thing the Damwell's debut full-length makes perfectly clear, it's that Wilco have become boring, self-absorbed malcontents. Well, Jeff Tweedy anyway. Bastards of the Beat is a near-perfect combination of teary-eyed Uncle Tupelo-like lonesome balladry and a Replacements-like sense for rocking the hell out of melancholy until it sounds almost jovial. Much of the record has a late-model Buffalo Tom sense of urgency to it, but it never gets so utterly sappy that you'll want to run screaming for your copy of Summer Teeth. Think Golden Smog with more focus and better songs.
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