Grant Hart fails to please with new band, Nova Mob
THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII
Rough Trade Records.
By RICK ROOS
THE ANXIOUSLY AWAITED new project of former H"usker D"u member Grant Hart has finally hit record stores. The album, The Last Days Of Pompeii, showcases a relatively new style for Hart, one muddled with creative lapses and thoroughly uninteresting lyrics and songs. Fans of H"usker D"u and alternative music alike will most certainly be disappointed with this uneven, distant work.
What makes the record even more of a letdown is Hart's stellar past. Throughout the 80s, he was one-third of H"usker D"u, one of the most dynamic, exciting, and critically-hailed alternative music groups. The band's songwriting and musical prowess were matched by few others. Their songs ranged from blistering two-minute hardcore masterpieces to haunting songs typified by angry, frustrated lyrics. Hart played drums and shared singing duties for the band, but usually took a back seat to one of H"usker D"u's other members, Bob Mould. When the band split around 1987, it was due mostly to Hart and Mould's growing egos and inability to tolerate one another.
Hart and Mould then ventured into separate solo projects. Mould's first release, Workbook, was a resounding success. The album was critically lauded and received significant radio play. Mould also released another solo effort about a year ago entitled Black Sheets Of Rain. This disc served to only further elevate Mould's level of commercial and critical acceptance.
As for Hart, the results of his solo projects were far less outstanding. He released a single, "2541," around the time that Mould's Workbook came out. The inevitable comparisons were made between him and Mould which, coupled with the single's poor sales, made Hart bitter and resentful. This attitude seemed to rub off heavily on Hart's first full-length album, Intolerance. Intolerance was marked with Hart's whiny vocals, and a more toned-down, acoustic sound. Gone were the agonizing vocals and explosive guitars of the past which still had an obvious place in Mould's work. It was easy to tell that fans also felt cheated from the old sound, as the album was a total flop. However, instead of logically switching gears, Hart has unfortunately given listeners more of the same drudge on his latest release The Last Days Of Pompeii.
The 12 tracks on Pompeii (with four exceptions) are dull, monotonous journeys into Hart's revamped musical psyche. The album's sound is best described as a sort of tribute to the psychedelic style of the 60s, with occasional mixes of both hard-edged and softer, darker moments. Most of the songs, however, are just boring. For instance, "Lavender and Gray" is a four-minute piece featuring a steady, simple riff with Hart doing his best Joe Cocker imitation and proceeding to fall flat on his face. "Space Jazz" is a cut which has a heavy, repetitive guitar lick and unintelligible lyrics, coming off as nothing more than annoying noise. "Where You Gonna Land" is similar to the melodic sounds of the Byrds but again suffers from monotony and weak musicianship.
Other duds on the disc include the pathetic "Introduction," the harsh and abrasive "Woton," and "Over My Head" with its "row-row-row your boat" lyrics and general lethargy. Worst of all is Hart's attempt to jump on the popular bandwagon by releasing both a fast and a slow version of the same song on one album, in this case the cut "Admiral of the Sea." The slower version is excruciating to listen to, and more importantly robs the listener of the enjoyment produced by the truly eclectic and brilliant faster version of the same song.
Besides the fast version of "Admiral of the Sea," Pompeii does contain some songs which appear as bright rays of sunlight on this otherwise gloomy disc. Case in point: "Wernher Von Braun," a cute and simple rocker which will have anyone singing along to its catchy vocals. Also, the title cut of the album, with its addictive riff and clever lyrics, is a pleasant diversion. Lastly, there is "Persuaded," reminiscent of some of the angst apparent on H"usker D"u's earlier releases Warehouse: Songs and Stories and Candy Apple Gray.
Simply put, this album brings out two feelings in me: disappointment in hearing this sub-mediocre album coming from someone of such musical genius as Hart, and second, and sadness and regret in thinking of what could have been if H"usker D"u had only patched things up and stayed together. For whatever it is worth, skip The Last Days Of Pompeii and pick up an old H"usker D"u album instead.