The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, January 14, 2003 - 7A
REVIEWS OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY'S NEW RELEASES
DEAD IN THE WATER
VERMONT'S FAVORITE SONS BRING SHAME TO THE GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE
ELEKTRA RECORDS "
By Scott Serilla
Daily Music Editor
Chances are, if you've lived in
Ann Arbor long enough, at more
than one party, you've had a tie-
dye-clad throwback struggle to
focus his smoky gaze on you, poke
his finger into your chest while say-
ing "Duuude, it's about the music."
While there are worse mantras
(fashion and drugs come to mind),
this pathetic argument isn't going
to fool anybody anymore. Justify-
ing endless noodling in the name
of "the music" is a crutch for neo-
hippie suburbanites either too high
or too dumb to tell a good jam
from 30 minutes of aimless,
showoff faux musicianship.
Rock or any other worthwhile
pop genre is not about the music at
all and never has been - it's about
the songs. From Chuck Berry to
The Ramones, The Beatles to Elvis
Costello, passion for the craft of
songwriting has always been an
infinitely better identifier of a great
artist than raw technical playing.
Even at their best, Jam forefathers
The Dead and The Allman Brothers
were finding a particular groove
with the context of already well-
What Jam culture forgets too
pleted songs to his side projects,
giving Phish .only leftovers. Even
highlight "46 Days" seems like it
was barely rehearsed, discussed or
thought out. Boys, there are differ-
ences between laidback and unfo-
cused, carefree and careless.
The key track here is bassist
Mike Gordon's "Mock Song," a
stream of conscious rant of intend-
ed nonsense with a chorus of
"Who's mocking who? / It's just a
mock song / Call it what you will."
At least somebody finally said it -
the band is not even bothering with
songwriting anymore, content with
just creating the illusions of songs
and jamming for jamming's sake.
The Big Lie: The band might
tell you they wanted to release an
album of undercooked tunes to
capture the "magical" moment
when the group first got back
together after their much publi-
cized two-year hiatus.
Fact: The label rushed a half-done
album into stores so there was some-
thing brand new on the shelves to
match all the media hype accompa-
nying the group's first show on New
Year's Eve and subsequent tour
(these songs would have benefited
from being tested on the road and
then recorded after the tour). For the
first time I can think of, a band has
put out the studio outtakes before
releasing the finished project.
RATING: * *
COLUMBIA/ILL WILL RECORDS
By Joseph Litman
Daily Arts Writer
And on the eighth day, having rested,
the Lord again toiled and begot Nas, a
flawed creation capable of greatness yet
prone to mediocrity.
Were Nas' presumptuous, self-con-
ferred title "God's Son" to be universal-
ly accepted, the preceding sentence
would surely need to be appended into
scripture. Nas' latest work, God's Son,
confirms this would-be-apocryphal
description, though, because the album
could be fantastic were it not tempered
with too many useless songs.
On the precipice of greatness -
seemingly having mastered his craft and
recognized his limitations - Nas
instead reverted to the inconsistent fel-
low whose resume is indelibly stained
by pedestrian efforts like I Am and
Nastradamus. Instead of following his
great Stillmatic and his even better The
Lost Tapes with an album of similar
quality, Nasty fell down, back toward
Earth and further from the exalted sta-
tus he would have otherwise enjoyed.
That such a notion is being dis-
cussed, however, is a tribute to Nas'
exceptional rhyming ability. Rarely can
a rapper legitimately claim to be
among the best ever, yet Nas'
unequaled storytelling ability has
afforded him the luxury. This talent is
on display throughout God's Son, and
narratives like "Last Real Nigga Alive"
and "Pussy Killz" are prime examples.
The imaginative "Book of Rhymes" is
even further proof of Nasir Jones' lyri-
cal prowess, yet also illustrative of
what has become a Nas trademark:
creative song structure. Whether deftly
carrying the same metaphor through-
out an entire song, relating an eventful
Courtesy of Elektra Records
often is jamming should be serving
the song, spontaneously heightening
an emotion of the moment, filling
out and enlivening the original
song. It might surprise some non-
Jam fans to learn that improvising
for 20 minutes has occasionally
made a song better. But it might be
even more surprising to Jam-devo-
tees to learn that 20 minutes doesn't
automatically make a good song.
Too often I've had a Phish cult
member excitedly tell me, "Oh man
they did a half-hour version of
'Squirming Coil,"' as if simply
dragging it out longer guaranteed it
Phish used to be better at balanc-
ing their admittedly talented chops
with quirky, fun songwriting, fight-
ing back the jazzy pretense of their
epic soloing. But their new record
Round Room feels unnecessarily
shapeless, under written and slop-
pily thrown together. Clocking in at
almost 80 minutes, the album is
full of half-finished tracks that
meander here and there, squander-
ing the potential of opener "Peebles
and Marbles" and closer "Waves"
by stretching them into 11-plus
minute marathons for utterly no
reason. Frontman Trey Anastasio
apparently gave away all his com-
episode in reverse from denouement to
catalyst, or, in the case of "Rhymes,"
thumbing through an old notebook,
God's Son has proven capable of mak-
ing new rhyme formats work well.
Nas also adds to his catalogue of
gritty, street-inspired tracks with the
anthem "Made You Look," an
However, the significant shortcom-
ings of God's Son should not be over-
shadowed by its strengths. Leading this
list of drawbacks is that too many
songs are ill-suited for Nas. The
Eminem-produced "The Cross" sounds
like a beat that its producer should have
used for himself, given its bombast and
ersatz epic nature; "I Can" embodies
the Fleur de Lis and makes the song
seem cheesy given the piano riff's place
in the classical canon. Meanwhile,
other songs are simply boring.
Those who purchase this album
must also make sure to the get the spe-
cial edition that contains three bonus
tracks, all of which are worthwhile.
That three very good tracks are only
limitedly available is maddening given
that this record is a middling one. On
the whole, God's Son is a good, though
disappointing, effort from a rapper
capable of more.
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