Method Rocking

Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis have started bands. Come on, you know you're curious.

History aside, let's turn to the big question: Are these records any good? If you bet that Lewis's tunes would be better, let's hope you wagered only a sandwich. All you need to know is that Like a Bolt of Lightning begins with Lewis taking a breath and snarling, "Put it in my hand and tell me how much pressure it takes to get you off."

That's not sexy. It's dumb.

What follows are five juvenile rock songs, tough as nails made of Play-Doh. "Shelter Your Needs" starts with jittery drums and intermittent guitar stabs, between which Lewis yells, "Give it all, give 'em hell, that's your birthright / Back in grade school is where I learned to street fight." What's redeeming here, if anything, is Lewis herself -- not so much her lyrics but her personality. She brings the same go-ahead-and-underestimate-me attitude to her music as she does to her film career.

Juliette's new album is the pits.
Juliette's new album is the pits.

Says Lewis of the Warped Tour organizers, they "thought I was going to show up in a sedan, driving separate from my band and complain 'cause there's no showers, and I'm like, 'Do you know the fucking movies I've worked on? I've worked 18 hours a day. I've worked in a prison in 120-degree heat, with rattlesnakes.' "

Driver, on the other hand, doesn't strike me as the kind of woman who would put up with a cross-country punk rock tour. In conversation she's polite and pleasantly effervescent, not the commanding personality you typically associate with either a hotshot actress or a burgeoning diva. After listening to her superior album, though, this understated attitude seems appropriate.

Driver's record is about love, about finding it and losing it and figuring out where it fits. Her songs are atmospheric and mellow, with warm production and memorable melodies. "So Well," one of the older tunes on the record that Driver wrote years ago, begins in a minor key with a few plucked guitar notes floated over wispy synths. As the song moves into a major key, Driver confidently announces, "I will put your pictures in a wooden box / I will find a heart next time with fewer locks." And while the album is full of wimpy, overly sensitive folk-pop, it's good at being just that.

"Any kind of blind dismissal, I just tend to write that off as inconsequential," Driver says when asked what she'd say to cynics who dismiss her project as just another actor-band. "I look into the faces of the people that I play for, and that's far more encouraging than a lame dismissal by someone who hasn't even listened to the record."

It takes balls to go off and make an album knowing that most of the civilized world is going to pan it based on precedent alone. Just about every actor who has dipped his toe in the water of popular music has humiliated himself completely, and I wouldn't say either of these attempts is a total embarrassment. (Although: "Tell me how much pressure it takes to get you off"? Sheesh.) Seriously, though, Travolta Fever -- you can't do much worse than that.

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