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Kiss My Ass
Mercury

There was a time in my early youth, when split screens were not yet something we couldn't afford but just something that didn't exist, when a friend and I nearly came to blows over the choice of TV channels. He wanted to watch Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Amusement Park or some such, and I think I preferred to make smoochy faces at Olivia Newton-John on some prime-time special. I wasn't a member of the Kiss Army, which means I never did get the big deal, but I'm willing to recognize that Kiss has come to be regarded as influential in the intervening years. Why still baffles me, and Kiss My Ass doesn't clear anything up.

Strike one: tributes are supposed to be just that -- nods of respect from the admiring to the admired. Kiss My Ass, on the other hand, is organized by Kiss' own Gene Simmons, which lends a tone of self-congratulation to the whole affair. Add to that the sleeve's ad for a $150 collector's Kisstory book, and the project starts to smack of commercial desperation.

Strike two: anyone who thinks Kiss' influence spread beyond glam appeal need only listen to the way these songs crumble out of context. The Replacements made a fair go of "Black Diamond" on Let It Be, but that's more tribute to the 'Mats than to Kiss, and no band on this effort even comes close. Anthrax's "She" sounds emasculated and Dinosaur Jr.'s "Goin' Blind" can't touch the version the Melvins hammered out on last year's Houdini.

Strike three: Kiss sucked in the first place, so what the hell were you expecting from a rehash? If Kiss inspired these bands to this, maybe they should be taken off the pedestal and put on trial.

-- Brad Tyer

Jack Logan
Bulk
Medium Cool Records

There's a story behind this Jack Logan character (it's in the liner notes). Seems R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck told Medium Cool's Peter Jesperson about this great, undiscovered Midwestern songwriter of his acquaintance, and Jesperson asked for material. Logan ended up submitting more than 600 songs, many composed on a four-track recorder. Jesperson narrowed the field to 42 and released the no-longer-mysteriously-titled Bulk as a two-CD set.

Just from a listen you know this much: this Logan guy's embarrassingly prolific. He's got a brain like a dry sponge and an inexcusably extensive record collection. He sounds like Ween might if Dean and Gene weren't always joking. He's everything you ever wanted out of a straightforward, red-blooded, unpretentious, beer-drinking, lover-missing, book-reading, honest-day's-working auto mechanic from Indiana, and he quite likely never expected to receive the minor attention this record is generating. Kinda like Johnny

Mellencamp thinks he once was and wishes he still were, but with a supernatural ear for a hook.

Bulk is too big to index in 300 words, but for something patched together from material recorded over the course of 14 happily obscure years, it shows remarkably few seams. The CD's aural texture is so obviously and thoroughly basement quality that it can lull you, but the lyrics -- stuff along the order of, "Well, I've heard it all before and I'm walkin' out your door, and I'm not gonna ask you for a ride" -- float the songs on a chassis of gutbucket American music: rock, blues, country, jazz, punk... new wave goth, fer Chrissakes. Listen to "15 Years in Indiana" and tell me the man doesn't trade in the highest-quality wares. On track 42, "Town Crier," Logan sings, "I know this town, I know everybody in it." You can tell. Definitely my favorite record of the year this week.

-- Brad Tyer

Polvo
Celebrate the New Dark Age
Merge

The best thing about this package, I'm tempted to say, is the package itself. Some wise soul decided that the name Polvo sounded like nothing so much as some Arabian form of Jell-O, and designed the cover accordingly.

That's what Polvo's music has always seemed like to me, anyway -- undeniably exotic but ultimately and profoundly unfilling. Polvo's nonchalant vocals, trademark detuned guitars and repeated jerking tempo shifts, which might pass as crafty and complex to certain unschooled avant-jazz aficionados, sound to me more like attempts to obscure the fact that there's often precious little going on beneath the surface.

Too often, Polvo falls into the age-old indie-rock trap of writing songs about being a band -- as on "Every Holy Shroud," with its much-quoted line, "We just bought a sitar, so be prepared." That, in my code, translates to, "Turn the stereo off now, or you'll regret it later."

But I could be wrong. Judging from the size of its fan club, Polvo has hit on a formula that works well for a lot of people -- and this record is undeniably better than last year's Today's Active Lifestyles, if only because it's short and concise enough to seem to make coherent sense. Hell, a couple of the songs are almost catchy.

In other words, Polvo isn't quite as willfully obscure as they once were. Which, unfortunately, is kind of like being not quite as stinky as you once were -- it's a distinction most people, myself included, aren't willing to take the time to make.

-- Ross Grady

 
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