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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
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Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
Powerman 5000
Dreamworks Records

Rating: NR/10 ?

October 1, 2004
Those looking for a thoughtful, balanced, academic review of Powerman 5000's new album Transform should go elsewhere. This band deserves to be mocked.

For those who (understandably) haven't paid attention to PM5K's career thus far, they went platinum in 1999 with Tonight The Stars Revolt. In 2001 they were set to release a follow-up, Anyone For Doomsday? (har har) when band struggles resulted in the scrapping of the album and the departure of their drummer and bassist. More details would follow here, but the band members actually go by names like Al 3, Spider One and M. 33, so trying to unravel the band history is like translating a technical manual on muddy industrial-metal.

The band name is even worse. It would sound awkward as a video game, bad as a movie title; as a band moniker, it's straight awful. This name would make sense only as weight gain powder and it makes Puddle of Mudd, Staind and Godsmack look like wise, well thought-out choices.

As bad as the name is, the band is actually better than any of the above three, which is more a criticism of them than a compliment to the P-5000. Transform follows in the steps of the band's previous albums with murky metal embellished with straightforward electronic effects. Their new direction on this album is a few stabs at political commentary - they obviously took note of how System Of A Down's social agenda helped raise them above the nu-metal morass and win critical praise on top of good record sales two years ago. But where System Of A Down's Toxicity was specific in its commentary, the Po-Five have a flexible "let's rebel or something" attitude which is about as motivating as a Noam Chomsky screed that has sat in a poorly ventilated, humid bathroom until all the ink has run together.

All joking aside, the single from Transform, "Free," has been all over rock radio, and for good reason - it's far better than anything else on the album and almost good on its on terms. With a fist-pumping, mom-and-dad-out-of-my-skatepark chorus, it could have been 2003's dumb-rock guilty pleasure. Unfortunately, the stainless production dulls it- like a declawed tiger, the band bats at some good riffs, but the guitars don't sink in like they could have with a grittier interpretation. It's not too much to ask, either; producer Joe Barresi worked on albums for Kyuss and the Jesus Lizard in the '90s, two bands that were nothing if not hard, so it can't help but sound like a missed opportunity.

To simply trash P-Man 5-O and leave it at that would be unfair and unproductive (although fun!) so this review will end with some practical advice for Spider and the Power Friends. They should change their name (good lord, please change the name), drop to a small subsidiary of a major label, tour clubs in a broken-down van, actually live some of the anti-capitalist values they sing about, listen to Tool a lot, record an album with a rock producer who likes to take chances (Rick Rubin would be ideal) and then come back and blow up like System Of A Down did. Otherwise they can expect to end up on the nostalgia circuit 15 years from now, touring with Insane Clown Posse and playing shows for misty-eyed soccer dads who saw them when they were 14, because who else is going to like Transform?

Reviewed by Erick Bieritz
Erick Bieritz lives in Chicago, where is usually either very hot or very cold. He was the brainchild behind EPMD, where he wrote about EPs and singles for LAS, looking for overlooked or underappreciated non-album releases.

See other reviews by Erick Bieritz



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