Once upon a time, there was a young British band named Radiohead. Like many aspiring rock groups their age, they weren't quite sure of their identity yet, but they were a talented bunch and, more importantly, they knew they wanted a record deal. The band got their wish in 1994 when they signed to Capitol Records. The resulting debut album, Pablo Honey, was a competent if fairly conventional entry into the grunge rock sweepstakes, yielding the worldwide smash hit "Creep" and a collective yawn from critics.
I mention this story not because MOTH sound anything at all Radiohead, but because, like that Oxford-based group, they sound much more able-bodied than the pedestrian modern rock material on their debut, Provisions, Fiction and Gear. Smart hooks abound, instruments drop in and out, and pop pleasure reigns supreme. Unfortunately, MOTH are stuck working within very narrow and, dare I say, trendy emo-tinged, power-pop confines. And many of the song structures are so standard-issue from the start that no amount of creative CPR could revive them. Still, enough intelligence and ingenuity shines through the genre conventions to earmark MOTH as a band to watch in the future. Let's just hope Virgin cuts them some slack on the next album.
The latest contender for coolest band from Sweden, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, represents the flip side of the retro coin. Where their fellow countrymen, The Hives, revel in old-school punk with a slightly modern edge, TSOOL dress up classic rock in hip indie garb. Fronted by a demented, bearded frontman who I'm told is what Tim Harrington of Les Savy Fav might look like if he exchanged his cocaine for a hash pipe, TSOOL have already earned a reputation for ingeniously bizarre live performances, even though they've only played two datesone in NYC and the other at this year's SXSW music conference in Austin. I have no doubt that the jumbled psychedelic pastiche on display on this, their third album, would be extraordinary in a live setting, but I'm left slightly underwhelmed listening to the packaged product.
To get right down to it, TSOOL sound like they have a case of multiple-personality disorder, and, while that might make for compelling musical theater, it's more than a little incoherent on record. One minute they're The Flaming Lips covering Pink Floyd ("Mind the Gap"). The next they're The Beta Band covering Fleetwood Mac ("Keep the Line Movin'"). They actually sound best when they stick closer to the classic rock paradigm. "Sister Surround" and "21st Century Rip Off" feature the best chord progressions that Keith Richards never patented. And put "Infra Riot" right up there with the best of the Gallagher-penned Beatles knock-offs. Even at a relatively-svelte 57 minutes, Behind the Music is a bit too daunting for a single sitting. But their ambition is certainly laudable and the best moments reveal a band that could be dangerous if they learn to exercise some creative restraint.