Short Cuts

The London Suede's combination of Morrissey-esque melodrama and Seventies-style sexual slipperiness makes for a powerful alchemical mix (and a lot of naughty fun). But Sci-Fi Lullabies, a two-disc collection of B-sides, illuminates the band's gloomier side. Like the Smiths, the London Suede put some of its best material on the backs of singles, and some of these songs could have been hits on their own (especially the rave-up "Killing of a Flash Boy" and the slinky "My Dark Star"). Yet much of the material is brooding, morose, and even sinister -- not exactly radio fodder.

It's demanding stuff, and much of it is brilliant. "My Insatiable One," which Morrissey saw fit to cover, features one of Butler's more elegant guitar licks; "High Rising" is a terrific weeper, full of stirring strings and shivery flutes; "Together" is a delightfully evil vignette about a boy's attraction to a bit of rough trade.

These 27 tracks also afford a glimpse into the workings of Anderson's hopelessly dirty mind: He's always looking for a way to play the poet ("Think of the sea, my darling/As you murder me") or the decadent ("We're so disco we can't get on in this world any more") or the bottom dweller ("On a high wire, dressed in a leotard/There wobbles one hell of a retard"). Most Yanks would say: Don't go there. But Sci-Fi Lullabies is not for neophytes -- it's an extra reward for those who've already been lured back to Anderson's shabby hotel room.

-- Rafer Guzman

Verbow
Chronicles
550 Music/Epic

Well, yeah, Jason Narducy writes and sings the songs -- and his plangent guitar playing fuels the overall sound -- for the Chicago foursome Verbow (rhymes with turbo). But producer and mentor Bob Mould's aural and attitudinal fingerprints appear all over Chronicles, the band's full-length debut. The gray sheets of dense guitar chords. The glimmers of acoustic guitar peeking through the mix. The sawed cello counterpoint (courtesy of long-time Narducy collaborator Alison Chesley). The relentlessly earnest world-view suffused with periodic bouts of self-pity ("The Distance Between Us," "Lethargy's Crown").

Mould casts a shadow over almost everything here: from the Sturm und Drang of the CD's opening track, "Fan Club" (wherein Narducy sticks a knife in the back of a fallen rock hero -- Morrissey?) right on up to the choruses on the album's closer, "Down the Gun." (Oddly, that last song's verses echo Nirvana.) Geez, the buzzing, poppy "The Chronicles of Agent Kidd" and similar-sounding "River Wish" -- ohmygod, those background vocals are sooooo Bob! -- could be lost tracks from Copper Blue, the 1992 debut by Mould's band Sugar; and the slow, reflective "Execution of a Jester" and like-minded "The Distance Between Us," both buoyed only by acoustic guitar, cello, and tambourine, would've fit comfortably on Mould's 1989 solo Workbook. Not necessarily bad things, mind you, but kind of pointless. File under: redundant listening.

-- Michael Yockel

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