Spins

In Love and Death
The Used
Warner Bros./Reprise
Two years and two releases later, I'm still a little confused. Tell me again: Why am I supposed to lend the sort of tired Pavlovian-pop hooks and insipid sentiments usually associated with the likes of the Simpson sisters more credibility when they're delivered by The Used? Because the guitars are louder, and marginally more inventive? Because here, those hooks and sentiments are sung by a guy who says "fuck" and "knife" a lot, a guy with a great voice, tons of issues and a name inspired by the movie Kingpin?

In Love and Death, the second proper full-length from the band that almost single-handedly awoke mainstream modern-rock FM stations to the existence of catchy emo's more jagged, cathartic extremes, expands a bit on the Utah quartet's screamy-pop blueprint. Unfortunately, with the exception of the compelling At The Drive-In-for-Dummies vibe of album opener and lead-off single "Take It Away," said expansion is largely even further into the realm presided over by the kinds of pop-culture awards shows where the presenters are all under the legal drinking age, and the awards themselves are surfboards. Expressing angst has always sounded a little too easy for The Used; here, thanks in no small part to former Goldfinger frontman/current shit-hot almost-rock studio guy John Feldmann (Mest, Story of the Year, Ashlee Simpson), the band's histrionics are rendered so slickly that they're bloodless, and laid up next to a handful of unapologetically cliched power ballads.

The most frightening thing about this disc is the fact that it isn't an offensive listen. Every riff, every change, every overdub, every trademarked Bert McCracken yowl is placed so perfectly, anyone who's listened to the radio at all during the last three years can't help but respond on some level.

Actually, wait a minute — that is offensive. At least, it should be. 1/2
—Scott Harrell

Final Straw
Snow Patrol
Universal
Yeah, I know it's late in the year to be reviewing an already considerably hyped album released months ago. It's just that Snow Patrol's heady blend of straight-ahead rock, Americana and new-wave hooks takes awhile to digest. Final Straw, their third release (and first for corporate monolith Universal), shows these guys in top form, pursuing an increasingly generic yet undeniably well-chosen form of alternative pop. These four young Irish guys began recording Final Straw right at the beginning of the latest Iraq war, while they were between record labels — inauspicious signs that probably contributed to the paranoid vibe that is consistent throughout the album. Frontman Gary Lightbody, with a voice that croaks along in decidedly non-indie form, croons atop layers of distortion and synthesized blips reminiscent of Grandaddy (OK, I would say Radiohead, but that might lead you to think Snow Patrol sounded expressly British, which they don't). Guitars clash simplistically, rarely employing virtuosic solos or feats of glory, as does the other instrumentation. Maybe that's a ploy, an effort to get listeners to pay attention to the superb, if overwrought, songwriting. Often, it works. While Final Straw probably won't end up influencing any bands as much as, say, Nirvana's Nevermind influenced Snow Patrol, this effort is a worthy addition to the time capsule labeled "The Sound of '04." 1/2
—Mark Sanders

Zwei
Turing Machine
Frenchkiss
The second album from instrumental trio Turing Machine finds the group expanding on the austere, mechanical experimentation of their brilliant debut, 2000's A New Machine for Living. Zwei is unarguably more organic-sounding than its predecessor; though Turing Machine's now-trademarked Krautrock influences, crisply distorted bass and creative rhythmic shifts remain in place, new, more upbeat wrinkles enter the mix as the band plays around more with the primary dynamics of what is, at its base, a classic power-trio format. The 13-minute "Bitte, Baby, Bitte" and dynamic, aptly named closer "Rock. Paper. Rock" display more human enthusiasm than anything they've done before, nearly approaching a postmodern sort of jamminess at times. And "Don't Mind if I Don't" employs single-note guitar lines to produce the sort of space and "breathing" great three-piece acts have emphasized for eons. While it's on the whole a bit less stellar and immediately gripping than the combo's previous effort — those repetitive and ultra-long scene-setting sections occasionally overextend themselves into monotony — Zwei is nonetheless extremely good, and does what every great second record should: it builds on the signature established by the debut, without forsaking what was original and great about it. (www.frenchkissrecords.com)
—Scott Harrell

Crunk Juice
Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz
TVT
The Southern thug-party cheerleader and his raucous crew are back. And they're not here to suggest that you get crunk — they're here to demand it, loudly and repeatedly, over the course of a dull, redundant, misogynist, headache-inducing album that does little more than repeatedly scream the same dozen phrases made up of the same 20 or so words, and threaten to kill your wife and kids if you talk shit and can't back it up. Ice Cube can't save Crunk Juice; his turn on "Real Nigga Roll Call" is neither inspired nor memorable. Slayer can't save it, either; while the use of riffs from the thrash band's "Angel of Death" in "Stop Fuckin Wit Me" might initially turn heads, the song's big, dumb, solipsistic Limp Bizkit-isms (Lil Jon's just like us, man — he doesn't want to pay his child support either!) grate and insult. Hell, not even The One True Usher and his pal Ludacris can redeem this patchwork of occasionally decent beats and dependably retarded refrains; their verses on "Lovers and Friends" are among the best things here, but lyrical and production cliches, and an unintentionally hilarious pillow-talk verse by Lil Jon himself, effectively kill the tune. (Plus, when the most impressive flow on your disc comes courtesy of Luda, you know you're in trouble.) By the time Snoop, Pharrell and the unimpeachable Nas make wholly inexplicable appearances, it's all over but the shouting. There's plenty more of that, though.
—Scott Harrell

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