The Stereophonics' follow-up album to last year's Performance and Cocktails does not exactly pick up where the former left off. Although Performance and Cocktails saw little success in the U.S. - save some play on MTV2's "Pick a Part That's New" - the album was a hit in the UK (not that one!). On the strength of Performance and Cocktails, the Stereophonics were named Best Live Band by Q Magazine, winning out over more well- known bands such as Oasis and Blur.
So they'll follow it up with more of the same, right? Uh... not exactly. Just Enough follows a different musical path, employing a scaled-back sound in which acoustic guitars, pianos and harmonicas replace electric guitars. Think American alt-country, only with the Stereophonics' petulant, British-accented lead singer/songwriter, Kelly Jones. The sweet simplicity of a great song like "Step on My Old Size 9s" as well as the light and airy "Have A Nice Day" sound downright folksy next to more traditional British bands like Coldplay or Radiohead.
That's not to say that Just Enough doesn't have its share of missteps. "Mr. Writer," a song in which the band rails against the British press, and also the first single, is one of the weaker tracks, along with "Every Day I Think of Money," the band's first release from the album.
All in all, Just Enough is a quality album, with enough good songs to be worth the purchase, as opposed to just downloading the good songs off the Net. It would be nice to think in a world where radio is dominated by bland alt-rock, boy bands and screeching rap/metal, a nice little song like "Step on My Old Size 9s" could find an audience on the radio. But hey, who am I kidding? -Kevin Faris
The Old 97's want to be the prom band. They don't care what year they get the gig: 1965, 1975, or 1985 will do. As long as there's some call for a two-guitar format among the current musical trends, they're ready.
Nothing goes to four minutes, and the start-stop drumming style is eventually overdone over the thirteen tracks. Yet there are many songs where the group seems to have all the time they need to stretch out an extra verse or some soaring guitar over gorgeous vocal harmony.
Lead singers Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond retain all of the innocence that can be had in musicians who grew up listening to Elvis Costello. After "Rollerskate Skinny" delivers the final couplet "I believe in love/but it don't believe in me," the next song, "Buick City Complex," has a guy trying to get a piece from a girl during the chaos of her housing project getting torn down. Neuroses old and new show up throughout this set - in fact, its best value may be in connecting the dots between rockabilly Duane Eddy and the wit-pop that came out of all the various projects from the Finn brothers.
The hooks from "Bird In A Cage" and "What I Wouldn't Do" can stay in the mind long enough for any number of "Nervous Guy" types to enjoy an evening without noticing that they're getting no dances on prom night. Considering that this is a foursome playing and singing together seamlessly, their comraderie might make the Old 97's a better role model for lonely young men than the perpetually pining solo retro jangle-pop acts like Marshall Crenshaw. -T.E. Lyons
Usually bands start off simple and loose, then, with experience, get tighter and more complex. Oneida have taken the opposite track. Their first (highly recommended) album, Enemy Hogs, was a crisp, arty exercise, complete with a boy's choir in one song. The follow-up, Steel Rod, swerved into a rootsier sound, ending with a 16-minute jam foreshadowing the full-on rock party happening on this CD. Hips are thrustin', rumps are shakin' - lemmetellya, sis, this record lives up to its name.
Road-hard and het-up wet, Oneida whips out a greasy, noisy combo of monster blues and cosmic hunch. My note for "Fat Bobby's Black Thumb" could describe the album as a whole: "The Band and Monster Magnet share a late-night table at Waffle House." The gnarlier tracks, even the chaotic "I Love Rock", are true toe-tappers, and the more trad tunes all have their explosive moments of effed-upness, like the happy-go-lucky "Major Havoc" with its Big Rock Ending or the spazzed-out chorus of "Pure Light Invasion." Every song features a blistering guitar solo, whether it's the redneck-rockin' "Power Animals" or "Legion of Scabs", which sounds like Grand Funk gone Marxist. The organist rules, too, dueling with the starscream guitar in "Slip Inside This House", laying down fat chords and a creepy coda in the anti-cocaine anthem "Snow Machine."
But, damn, get this for "Doin' Business in Japan", a breakneck blast of rant'n'roll that'll make ya shimmy and slide like James Brown - the real one and that other guy. "I'm signin' contracts that I don't understand!/ But it don't matter, when the deal is done/ I'm getting' higher than the Rising Sun!" Hoo-LAW! C'mon, everybody - LET'S ROCK! -Bill Widener