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Powerman 5000

Tonight the Stars Revolt!

(DreamWorks Records)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, and Korn should be supremely flattered by the new Powerman 5000 album. Taking derivation to new heights, Tonight the Stars Revolt! finds PM5K brashly appropriating the fatalistic sounds of some of today's hottest alterna-metal acts. Lest fans fail to take notice of this brazen stylistic thievery, PM5K has cleverly larded its new album with important guest appearances by Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson's Ginger Fish, and DJ Lethal of Limp Bizkit. Yet despite their brave attempts to animate this album, Zombie and his fellow guest stars can't save this impotent mess of a recording. Tonight the Stars Revolt! is revolting all right, but for all the wrong reasons.

The PM5K formula for suck-cess is so brazenly market-oriented, it could have been drafted by a team of Madison Avenue pitchmen. To wit: Combine Rob Zombie's Bmovie theatrics with the turgid grooves of Korn and the ghoulish melodrama of Marilyn Manson. With countless lyrical references to technology, science, and the apocalypse, Tonight the Stars Revolt! unfolds like a '50s pulp comic. Unfortunately a discernable plot never materializes. A concept album without a concept -- what a concept!

Tonight the Stars Revolt! might have been more interesting had PM5K focused more on lyrical and musical innovation and less on simulating the radio-tested sounds of its peers. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the album is vocalist Spider One, who emerges as the best impersonator in rock -- an admittedly dubious honor. On tracks such as "When Worlds Collide" and "The Son of X51," Spider appropriates Manson's vampirish sneer to a tee, while other tunes find him delivering unerring impersonations of Korn's Jonathan Davis and Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst. Given his chameleonic talents, Spider should seriously consider a career as a Las Vegas impersonator. Yes, he's that good.

Too bad enduring rock careers aren't based on impersonation. Tonight the Stars Revolt! does little to dispel the notion that PM5K is a poor man's White Zombie. Like Zelig, the fictional human chameleon created by Woody Allen, PM5K seems content with morphing itself to suit the situation and the times. Derivation has seldom sounded so lame. -- Bruce Britt

Macy Gray

On How Life Is


Macy Gray's debut has been out barely a month, and already it's become fashionable to dismiss the disc as overhyped piffle. I heard some twit doing just that on National Public Radio the other day, complaining that Gray's songs aren't ambitious enough. Good grief.

Here's a little tip for those of you who don't have the label "rock critic" wedged up your asses: On How Life Is rocks. Hard. The ten songs here are good-time, sexed-up R&B; nothing more, nothing less. They're meant to inspire your booty, not your mind, and to this end they are exquisitely suited.

"Do Something" opens with hip-hop samples before sliding into a sumptuous wash of Motown strings. The Clintonesque funk of "Sex-O-Matic" is fueled by a glissando of unstoppable breakbeats, and the classic soul shadings of "I've Committed Murder" allow Gray to do what she does best: vocally vamp. Her voice is half helium, half whiskey. Comparisons to Billie Holiday and Nina Simone are inevitable. But it should be noted that Gray's intent is rarely lamentation. She seems more interested, generally, in scoring a date and getting busy (e.g., "Why Didn't You Call Me," "I Can't Wait to Meetchu").

There's nothing wrong with this joyous agenda -- unless, of course, you're a rock critic. But as everybody knows, rock critics mistrust joy. And they can't dance, either. Which is part of the reason they don't seem to understand why Gray is so special. -- Steve Almond

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Steve Almond
Contact: Steve Almond
Bruce Britt