Grunge's Prayer

For a guy who sings, "Talking is just masturbating without the mess," on his band's latest record, Happiness Is Not a Fish That You Can Catch, Our Lady Peace front man, Raine Maida, is surprisingly forthcoming about his group's shortcomings. "We're definitely not changing music," he says. "It is still 'modern rock' or whatever, and that's what we kind of fit into."

Since forming in 1993, Our Lady Peace has opened for some of the monsters (and dinosaurs) of rock -- Page/Plant, Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Alanis Morissette and now Creed. The band fits well with these relics. Not every group is going to revolutionize music, particularly those in the post-grunge mold, and OLP's mix of loud guitars and angst-laden vocals gets the band lumped in with less-than-creative company (read: Bush, Creed) or compared unfavorably to some of the bigger-name grunge bands. The group (which includes Mike Turner, Jeremy Taggart and Duncan Coutts) recognizes its limitations and reputation. To his credit, Maida also acknowledges the group's effort to overcome its past work.

Musically, Happiness isn't much of a departure from the aggressive guitar-oriented alternative rock of the quartet's first two records; instead it's a purification of the sound, a removal of unnecessary elements. The band backs off from a dull roar frequently enough to use the quiet interludes of particular songs not just for contrast but for meditation, lending dramatic impact. The sound is not that far from the mainstream rock of 1995's Naveed or 1997's Clumsy. But Happiness is a little groovier, a little artier. The lyrics inside these songs are also better. They offer optimism without irony. Given enough time, Our Lady Peace might eventually shed its grungish trappings in favor of something unique. For now, Happiness is a good start.

Even for a band that traditionally gets trapped in deep metaphors and slightly New Age spirituality, the awkward title of the record suggests a group that is taking itself way too seriously. This is rock and roll after all, not Self-help 101. There are few bands that can pull off earnestness, and what saves Happiness is that the underlying hopefulness is delivered not as a sermon on the mount but as a personal address. "Is Anybody Home?" is a bluster of booming drums and tweeting synthesizers. And the band sucks it all in for the chorus in which Maida is accompanied only by Turner's plucky guitar. The song briefly drops to the level of one person singing, almost to himself, before it explodes again. It's a simple gesture, reversing the grunge song structure of quiet verse/loud chorus, but it also inverts the hopelessness as well.

"Maybe we haven't had a No. 1 single or Buzz Clip videos, but hopefully when we finally convince the person to go to the record store and lay down $17 for our record, over time they live with it and they give it a chance," says Maida. "I think we're developing this show of faith with our fans where they can count on us to make good records. I'm talking out of my ass, but that's just how I feel." (David Simutis)

Our Lady Peace performs Sunday, October 31, at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion with Creed and Oleander at 7 p.m. Tickets are $21.50 and $26.50. Call (713)629-3700.

Monster Concert -- Who can forget the macabre music in the 1924 silent film The Phantom of the Opera? Lon Chaney plays the masked musician who deliriously hammers the keys of an old organ while hiding in the sewer under the Paris Opera House. More recently, Interview with a Vampire features an organ on the set of a mock vampire show. Celluloid monster scenes wouldn't be half as terrifying without the aural chills of an antique Wurlitzer.

During its "Halloween Monster Concert," the Houston chapter of the American Guild of Organists looks to the muse of Vincent Price. Several performers will pull out all the stops (literally) during a recital of spooky dirges you always wanted to hear in church, like Chopin's funeral march and Bach's famous "Toccata and Fugue in d minor." You'll hear spellbinding works by Richard Strauss and Louis Vierne, the blind French composer who fatally collapsed at the organ console in Notre Dame cathedral. Now that's spooky. The Houston chapter of the AGO presents two concerts at the First Unitarian Church, 5200 Fannin, on Friday, October 29, at 7 and 9 p.m. Tickets are $5 and are sold only at the door. Call (713)5233712. (Cynthia Greenwood)

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