Houston Music

Local Music Reviewed

Time Bomb

There isn't a thing in the world wrong with wanting to make it big in rock and roll. On the contrary, it sounds like a lot of fun. So "good for you" to all those "art" bands that hole up in crappy little clubs and play gigs with strange makeup on their faces. Art-snob musicians need desperate conditions like that in which to work. Not Houston's Chlorine. The four guys in this band are a different kind of snob. Radio-play snobs.

They'll also be the first to say they have no desire to make cutting-edge music and/or live in destitute seclusion in the back alleys of the warehouse district. And the songs this group produces all have a very familiar sound. The band's melodies could be the Muzak filling the air at the local surf shop, the stuff you hear at the stoplight from a frat boy's truck or the faint echoes coming from the Walkman on the girl behind you in study hall. You could find Chlorine's catchy pop-rock sounds anywhere. The band is everyband.

Immediately after winning Best Rock Band in the 1998 Houston Press Music Awards, Chlorine hopped over to the Viper Room to play to a house full of record label reps, who were tripping over themselves at a chance to produce Chlorine's debut. Time Bomb must have bought the best drinks or girls or cars or whatever, because it got the boys, and, boy, the company delivered. Primer is clear and crisp-sounding. The graphics are curious and simple, except for the pictures of the band inside the sleeve, which look like cover shots for some cheap teen magazine.

Primer's first track, "Way Out," starts fairly slow in glam-rock '80s glory — high and heavy guitar beneath a scratchy voice. It drones a little, what with its hazy rhythm and sad undertones, but soon explodes into a happily nostalgic little ditty. The whole thing brought images of holding hands at the roller rink and waiting for that perfect song to give way to the opportunity to peck some girl on the cheek. "Before Too Long," the superbouncy ode to grabbing love while you can, is damn catchy. It has the same rhythm every raved-about-across-the-nation song has these days, fast climaxing story lines, lyrics that inspire listeners to sing along and a singer that lives every moment of the song's tragic theme through the throes of his vocal passion.

"Over You" is a whimsical acoustic love song written with hardly an effort to hide its well-orchestrated agenda: Get on MTV. When singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Fain starts to croon, there's no fighting the mental image of him on his knees at the feet of some teenagerish model, hands clasped together, singing his heart out about how things didn't go the way he thought and how he should still love her but doesn't. The oops-I-screwed-up-but-I'm-really-sorry attitude really works for Fain. He has the requisite shaky passion in his voice. Like on "Second Thoughts," which starts with Chris Henrich's heavy bar-chord jamming, the always-breathy and romantic Fain pokes his head into the picture, again, and takes over the song by whining for some girl. But this doesn't mean it's his song. After a couple plaintive cries — bam! — the song erupts. Eddie Travis's drums explode like they were thrown in the path of a Mack truck, and Jared Mueller's bass riffing is quick and imposing. This is a fast and gratifying song. It unloads buckets of tension and could even screw up a hairdo or two if listened to loudly. The slow-and-fast tempo of this tune reflects the essence of Primer. It's generally a meandering record with occasional adrenaline boosters sticking out here and there.

The album as a whole teeters between grungy leave-me-alone-I-need-my-space songs and shallow poppy runes that build scenes of everyday life and try to convey the regret we all feel as old age approaches and youthful exuberance wanes. Chlorine doesn't get political, though. And it doesn't do hip-hop. Nor does it do anything particularly new and grabbing. But what it does do is play music everyone can find themselves liking (even the art snobs). And not just because it reminds them of something they think they've heard before, something that has been played through the entire decade on 20-something radio stations around the country. But because it's new.

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Brandon Cullum