We dare you to mean a single word you say," the Cooper Temple Clause challenge their audience on their debut album, See This Through and Leave. The band is hyped enough to receive a review in Rolling Stone (not much of an honor, admittedly) despite the lack of domestic distribution for their album. At times, the band justifies their hype with an urgent and often inspired sonic assault. But too often, the band's manifesto rings hollow, as it becomes clear that the Cooper themselves have very little to say, and too often fall back into all-too familiar musical patterns.
In a way, the album is like a polar opposite to last year's essential New Pornographers release, Mass Romantic. While that album was a giddy ride through the last 35 years of manic pop, See This Through and Leave condenses the history of British gloom-rock -from Pink Floyd and Wire to Portishead and Radiohead - into 55 minutes. The cornerstones of the band's sound are a form of psychedelia purged of all of its playfulness, and the impassioned but not always tuneful fury of the early Manic Street Preachers, without, of course, the self-destructive front man and all those damned political ideals (more on those later).
The highlight of the album is unquestionably the incendiary "Let's Kill Music," which layers vibes, swirling keyboards, and electronic textures over a vocal performance seared with punk-rock urgency. "Been Training Dogs" and "Film-Maker" mine the bleakest and most bruised territory of early British punk. The dynamic stalker's tale "Did You Miss Me?" starts with Pink Floyd-like ambience and switches mid-song to scorched electronic thrashing. Unfortunately, the album is often weighed down by sonic murkiness and stupefying lapses into unambitious territory. "Amber" sounds suspiciously like latter-day Filter (Filter with a brain, but Filter nonetheless), with a mope-rock lyric and electronic flourishes over bland, minor key guitar rock. A hazy cloud of grungy guitar noise mars the epic finale "Murder Song."
The band's greatest weakness is their lack of lyrical focus. Songs like "Let's Kill Music," "Panzer Attack," and "Been Training Dogs" are couched in the language of war, but it's difficult to say exactly whom the Coopers are preparing to fight, or what they're fighting against. Is it the homogenous state of modern music? Ho-hum. The Cooper Temple Clause's concept is slightly ahead of their capability to execute it. Still, this is an extremely promising debut, and if the Coopers can hone their songwriting and find a worthy machine to righteously rage against, they are capable of greatness.
Or they could just learn to have a little fun. Fellow Brits McLusky (most notable for their brilliantly titled 2000 release My Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful than Yours) kill music the old-fashioned way on McLusky Do Dallas: they hired producer Steve Albini to bludgeon it to death. They pack an astonishing amount of wit and sonic diversity into 34 minutes of blunt-edged punk.
The lyrics are brilliantly unhinged. All fourteen tracks contain instantly memorable one-liners and hilarious non-sequiturs. I'm tempted to print out the entire lyric sheet, but instead I'll grace you with just a few of the gems cooked up by singer Andy Falkous. "My love is better than your love/We take more drugs than a two-headed funk band," from the anthem-like "To Hell with Good Intentions." "All your friends are cunts/Your mother is a ballpoint pen thief," from the surprisingly poppy potential single "Gareth Brown Says." "If I had to choose a woman then I think I'd choose religion," from "Day of the Deadringers." Bob Pollard of Guided by Voices should be very, very afraid: his reign as Master of the Cryptic Lyric is nearly up. While Cooper Temple Clause are still getting their feet wet and the Queens of the Stone Age are busy getting stoned and smirking, McLusky have emerged as challengers for the Best Rock Album of 2002.